Universal Credit fuels a surge in families using foodbanks, charity warns

A Trussell Trust food bank. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
A Trussell Trust food bank. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

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DELAYS in new benefit payments are fuelling a surge in the number of families in crisis relying on foodbanks to survive, a charity has today warned.

Almost 55,000 three-day emergency food parcels were given out to needy families across the south east in the first half of the year, The Trussel Trust has said.

The trust said foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout for six months or more have seen a 30 per cent average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before.

It comes as the charity this morning issued a stark warning, saying it has seen an average national rise of 13 per cent with 586,907 crisis parcels handed out.

And there is a fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg as these figures relate to just Trussel Trust-run foodbanks.

Mark Ward, interim chief executive at The Trussell Trust, said: ‘We’re seeing soaring demand at foodbanks across the UK.

‘Our network is working hard to stop people going hungry but the simple truth is that even with the enormous generosity of our donors and volunteers, we’re concerned foodbanks could struggle to meet demand this winter if critical changes to benefit delivery aren’t made now.

‘People cannot be left for weeks without any income, and when that income does come, it must keep pace with living costs – foodbanks cannot be relied upon to pick up the pieces.’

The trust runs more than 400 food banks and operates in Portsmouth.

The city has not yet had a full rollout of Universal Credit. But foodbanks in areas that have had the rollout for six months or more have seen a 30 per cent average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before.

Now foodbanks are reporting serious effects of six-plus week waiting period, poor administration and inability of current advance payment system to support everyone on no income.

The Trussell Trust has today issued a five-point plan for decision-makers and is calling on the public for donations to stop people going hungry this Christmas.

Between April 1 and September 30, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 586,907 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 519,342 during the same period last year, 208,956 of these went to children.

The figure, distributed before full Universal Credit rollout accelerated in October 2017, meaning the foodbank network is already on course to distribute a new record number of food parcels in 2017-18.

The charity is concerned the situation will worsen in the months leading to Christmas when demand for food traditionally spikes, and when the number of foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit service will triple.

Trussell Trust data reveals that issues with a benefit payment remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank across the UK, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (25 per cent benefit delay; 18 per cent benefit change).

Of people referred due to a benefit delay, 45 per cent of referrals made due to a wait for a first payment were related to Universal Credit and 36 per cent of referrals made because a new claim had not yet been awarded were related to Universal Credit.

Of people referred due to a benefit change, 38 per cent of referrals made due to a change to a different benefit were related to Universal Credit.

Low income, which refers to anyone in work or on benefits struggling to get by on their income, accounts for 27 per cent of referrals – suggesting certain pay and benefit levels are not protecting people from falling into crisis.

Among the charity’s main calls on the government include ensuring the six-week wait for the first payment is cut; a better availability of advanced loans with a three-month grace period; improving administration causing lengthy delays in payments and wrong payments.