‘Universal credit boosts food bank use’


UK foodbank use continues to rise with those living in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out being particularly affected, according to new data from The Trussell Trust.

Between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 1,109,309 in 2015-16. Of this number, 436,938 went to children.

The charity’s new report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout to single people, couples and families have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.

Those claiming Universal Credit have to wait at least six weeks for their first payment which can lead not only to foodbank referrals, but to debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction. These effects can last even after people receive their Universal Credit payments, as bills and debts pile up, says the anti-poverty charity.

It adds that many of those claiming free food are people in insecure or seasonal work which it says suggests the work incentives in Universal Credit are not yet helping everyone. It adds that people often struggle with the online system for UC.

Trussell Trust data also reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent.  Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.

The report calls for more information from the Government about the shape and form of Universal Support locally, particularly ahead of full UC rollout in an area; a reduction of the six-week waiting period for Universal Credit; and greater flexibility in the administration of Universal Credit, including more support for people applying online who are unfamiliar with digital technology, and support to improve people’s ability to move into work and stay in work.

David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust said: “The move to simplify an often complex welfare system is a welcome one but any large reform can have unforeseen consequences. Foodbanks see first-hand how changes to the welfare system affect people on the ground, and so can offer an early warning to decision-makers. We are sharing our early observations with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure any adverse side effects Universal Credit can have on people are addressed before full rollout is completed. We have been heartened by Secretary of State Damian Green’s willingness to engage, his department’s work to pilot improvements, and the recent changes to the Universal Credit taper rate which mean people moving into work will keep more of their earnings. We hope our insights can inform efforts to make sure the values on which Universal Credit is built are delivered in practice. To stop UK hunger we must make sure the welfare system really does work for everyone.”

Meanwhile, another report out this week, from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger estimates that up to three million children risk being hungry in the school holidays. It says this group comprises over a million children growing up in poverty who receive free school meals during term time, as well as an estimated two million who are disqualified from free school meals because their parents are in low-paid jobs. The Group makes a series of recommendations, including a statutory requirement for local authorities to facilitate and co-ordinate the delivery of free meals and fun for children during school holidays, with utmost flexibility granted over the actual delivery methods used.

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