Food banks are expecting a surge in demand for their services and say vulnerable people will be plunged into poverty “almost overnight” because of a cut to Universal Credit.
The £20-a week uplift, introduced at the start of the pandemic, is set to be scrapped despite fears hundreds of thousands of people will be “massively hit”.
As an estimated six million of the UK’s poorest brace for the change to their incomes from Wednesday, groups that run food banks have shared their concerns over what this change will mean for their users.
“We’re anticipating a huge surge in need for independent food banks as the impact of the cut to Universal Credit and cost of living increases take hold,” Sabine Goodwin from the Independent Food Aid Network told The Independent.
“On top of this, many of our food banks are struggling to access food supply.”
The co-ordinator at the group, which represents over 500 independent food banks in the UK, added: “It’s critical that the government reverses its decision on Universal Credit and ensures social security payments and wages match the cost of living so we can put an end to poverty and the need for food banks in the UK.”
The Salvation Army also said it was bracing for a surge in demand for its food banks.
“The government worked hard throughout the pandemic to protect people from financial hardship, but the loss of the furlough scheme and the Universal Credit uplift will plunge vulnerable people into poverty almost overnight,” Lieutenant-Colonel Dean Pallant from the charity and church said.
The charity’s food bank in Keighley gave 3,600 people food parcels during the 12 months to March 2020, which members fear will get worse with the benefits cut.
Meanwhile, Bradford Central Foodbank helped 2,500 people in just one month during the pandemic and manager Josie Barlow said many more will soon need support.
She told the BBC: “People will be massively hit by the cut in Universal Credit. People going from £409 as a single person down to £323 a month. It is a 21 per cent cut in income.”
She added. “Especially in winter with electricity bills, fuel prices are rising, that combined with the furlough scheme ending, it is going to really push so many more people to needing a foodbank.”
Gary Stringer, a volunteer at the same foodbank who is on Universal Credit, told the BBC the weekly cut of £20 to the payment was a “big concern”.
“I do worry about it because I’m trying to look for work at the moment. There is nothing available,” he said.
From Wednesday, no assessments will include the uplift, meaning that from 13 October - a week later - no payments will be received that include the extra money.
Boris Johnson is preparing to tell the Tory party conference his “levelling up” agenda is key to supporting left-behind communities.
Ahead of this speech, Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, defended the £20 weekly cut.
“Of course the emergency support we have provided was because of the pandemic,” he told Sky News.
“As we come through the pandemic, with youth unemployment going down, employment going up, we need to transition. We don’t want to see people reliant on the welfare trap.”
But the change has faced criticism from charities, think tanks and unions from across the political spectrum and calls for the government to U-turn on the decision.
The Whitehawk Foodbank in Brighton called for the £20 top-up to be reinstated “immediately”.
It said it gave out a “staggering 3,689 parcels” last year and was “concerned this will increase again”.
The Trussell Trust, which has a network of hundreds of food banks in the UK, also said it wanted to see the decision to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week reversed.
A government spokesperson told the BBC: “As announced by the chancellor at the budget, the uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.”
They added: “Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our plan for jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”
The Treasury has been contacted for comment by The Independent.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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