The Archbishop of York has called on ministers to cut the ‘grotesquely ignorant’ six week waiting time for Universal Credit (UC) payments.
His intervention came amid suggestions that ministers could be ready to reduce it, although the Government insisted no changes were imminent.
Critics have warned the six week wait is contributing to rising debt, rent arrears and evictions and have called for it to be reduced to four weeks to bring it in line with salary payments.
Dr John Sentamu, the second most senior member of the Church of England, said the waiting period is leaving millions of people who are already in debt with ‘nothing to fall back on’.
Writing in the Sunday Times, he added: ‘In the Bible, the hardest-pressed of all poor people were summarised as ‘widows and orphans’ for they were the group most at risk and with least support.
‘Our concern should be for their present-day successors whose essential outgoings are costing more and more and their incomes standing still or going down.
‘They fear Universal Credit, particularly because it seems to assume that everyone has a nest egg which will tide them over as they wait a minimum of 42 days for payouts.’
Tory MP Stephen McPartland said he believed the critics were ‘very, very close to getting a resolution’ on calls to cut the waiting time.
Theresa May avoided a Tory revolt on the issue in a House of Commons vote on Wednesday after making a concession by committing to scrap charges of up to 55p a minute to call a UC helpline.
She also ordered her party to abstain on a non-binding Labour motion calling for the introduction of the reform to be paused.
Commons Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field said the Prime Minister must reform UC or face the Conservative Party being seen again as ‘the nasty party’.
A Government spokesman said: ‘The Government remains determined to ensure that people joining Universal Credit don’t face hardship which is why we recently announced significant improvements to the system of advance payments that people can get get as soon as they get into the system.
‘As repeated this week, we will continue to monitor and take any actions if necessary. But no decisions or announcements on any further actions are imminent.’