Z2K Covid-19 – Emergency Social Security & Housing Actions

The arrival of Coronavirus in the UK has become an unprecedented crisis. Huge numbers of people are expected to become ill, and many more unable to work as they self-isolate to protect themselves and others.

Z2K Covid-19 – Emergency Social Security & Housing Actions

Last updated 03.04.2020

While we welcome the changes Government has made to our social security system because of Covid-19, these measures do not go far enough. There are 12 key steps the Government should take to ensure everyone has enough money to live on during this crisis, and somewhere safe to live where no-one is at risk of being evicted as a result of having Covid-19 or self-isolating to protect themselves and others.

Z2K believes these changes are essential to restoring dignity, and that a more empowering way of supporting people now will enable recovery to start quicker.

  1. We welcome the £20 a week rise in the Standard Allowance for UC, but this uplift needs to go further, and must be applied to all benefit rates. Due to Covid-19 self-isolation and social distancing, and job losses, many people in receipt of benefits will not have the ability to top up benefit shortfalls with their own income. Benefit rates should be restored to their true value so that they are proportional to the cost of living, which is also likely to rise as a result of Covid-19, and applied to existing benefit claimants including those on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and income-related Employment Support Allowance (ESA), as well as new benefit claimants on UC. All benefits must also be made available to people with No Recourse to Public Funds. As the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants have said, forcing migrants experiencing symptoms to work in order to cover the cost of living and pay rent puts them and everyone else at risk.
  2. Artificial caps on benefits, such as the Two Child Limit and the Benefit Cap, push people below the breadline. People living in the private rented sector who are already hit by the Benefit Cap won’t get any of the  Government’s increase in Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, so will still be unable to pay rent, and there are Universal Credit applicants who aren’t benefitting from the increased standard allowance due to the Benefit Cap. We are calling for a complete suspension of these caps.
  3. We welcome the Government’s decision to cancel all re-assessments across all benefits for three months. This will allow for more capacity to conduct any other phone / paper based assessments for all others who are on the waiting lists for new claims. However, given the long-term disruption that COVID-19 will cause, we are calling for Government to extend the provision of current benefit awards from 3 to 12 months.
  4. Remove all claimant commitments and sanctions. We want to see both claimant commitments and sanctions removed for all benefits given that many people will be unable to fulfil their commitments such as attending vocational training, educational courses, or work interviews, and given the uncertainty has caused a pause in recruitment for most employers, time spent applying for jobs is currently futile.
  5. All disabled and seriously unwell people whose claim for ESA has been disallowed should immediately be provided with the assessment rate while they are waiting for the outcome of their Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). This should be given as soon as the MR is requested so that people don’t face the potential of living without income for 10 weeks or more. A similar assessment rate of PIP should be created for those disabled people awaiting an MR decision on this benefit.
  6. Restore ESA Work Related Activity Group and UC Limited Capability for Work additional support rates. Since April 2017, people within these groups who are expected to get back into work at some point have not received additional financial support. Given the current uncertainty about future employment, we believe that people within these groups should have the additional elements reinstated, ensuring that they are adequately supported throughout this period.
  7. Make the Universal Credit advance payment a non-repayable grant. DWP has said that if you are affected by coronavirus you will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a jobcentre. We want to see Government make these loans non-repayable grants, ensuring that people are adequately supported throughout this uncertain period and don’t face deductions from their standard allowance, which leave them without the money they need to feed themselves.
  8. We welcome the Government’s decision to increase LHA rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents, which is vital for the housing sector in the long term. However, this is a crisis. With the loss of jobs for those working in shops, bars, and cafés, small businesses and self-employed workers, many tenants will be struggling to pay rent, or to top-up housing benefit, and this will lead to arrears. This new rate still does not cover rents in many areas, and this is why we are asking the Government for a temporary commitment to raise Housing Benefit levels to cover all rents, and to increase funding for Discretionary Housing Payments for those tenants still facing shortfalls.
  9. We welcome Government’s decision to stop all evictions for 3 months, but we are concerned that for those who have been unable to work as a result of Covid-19, rent arrears will build up over these 3 months and once they are up there will be a flood of evictions. This is why we are asking Government to go further by making clear that any time spent in self-isolation or ill with Covid-19 cannot not be counted towards a period of rent arrears.
  10. We welcome the Government’s request to all Local Authorities to house everyone sleeping rough in hostels and night shelters. This will enable healthcare workers and homeless services to provide treatment and support in a safe environment, where they can follow infection protocol. It is now vital that Government provide local councils with the funding and support they need to make this a reality, and guarantee that homeless people will not be kicked out onto the street when this is over. This MUST also apply regardless of somebody’s local connection or immigration status – leaving them on the street risks their lives as well as others.
  11. DWP should restore the Discretionary Social Fund for those in financial crisis during this period of national emergency, rather than leave the nation’s poorest at risk of destitution because of the postcode lottery of Local Welfare Assistance.
  12. MHCLG should increase its inadequate £500 million funding to enable local authorities to help more of those likely to be making a claim for Council Tax Support in the weeks ahead and suspend inequities such as the Two Child Limit and the Minimum Income Floor from their schemes.

We also encourage individuals to support Generation Rent and Acorn petitions.

For more information, please contact Ella Abraham: ellaabraham@z2k.org