Food bank use has soared by more than 13 per cent in a year as universal credit drives thousands more families to rely on emergency supplies just to feed themselves, a major charity has warned.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank service, has called on the government to enact urgent changes in the new welfare reform. The charity said it had provided 658,048 emergency supplies to people in crisis between April and September 2018, compared with 580,949 over the same period the previous year.
Food banks typically receive more referrals for emergency support during the second half of the financial year, and hardship experienced annually during the colder months may be compounded by more people left waiting at least five weeks for benefit payments, the charity said.
There has been an increase in the proportion of electronic referrals to food banks caused by a benefit delay due to waiting for a new universal credit payment or award, with the figure having almost doubled – from 16 per cent to 31 per cent – in the same period.
The charity said if the five-week minimum wait for a first universal credit payment was not reduced, the only way to prevent even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter would be to pause all new claims to the new benefit.
The rollout of the new system will see 3 million people currently receiving tax credits and disability benefits moved on to universal credit from next April, but it has been mired in criticism in recent months.
The trust said that it welcomed changes to the reform announced in the recent Budget, but urged caution that much of the support would not come into force until July 2020. It is calling for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to protect people moving onto the benefit before that point to reduce the five-week minimum wait for a first payment.
Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: “Our benefits system is supposed to anchor any of us from being swept into poverty, but if universal credit is to do that, we need to see urgent changes.
“It’s not right that people are being forced to use food banks after weeks of waiting for universal credit payments. The changes announced in last week’s Budget are a good start, but they won’t solve all of the problems food banks see and they won’t help people making new claims this winter.
“We’re seeing soaring levels of need at food banks. The time to act is now. If the five-week wait isn’t reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to food banks this winter will be to pause all new claims to universal credit until funding is in place to reduce the five-week wait.
“Food banks cannot continue to pick up the pieces. We have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger."
Margaret Greenwood MP, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “This Tory government is leaving people at risk of destitution as more and more people are being forced to rely on food banks.
“Nobody should be left waiting weeks for a payment and the government must stop the botched roll-out of universal credit now."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Universal Ccedit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment. We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on universal credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1bn to help people moving over from the old benefits system to universal credit.
“This is on top of the improvements we have already made – advances have increased to 100 per cent, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto universal credit.
“The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”
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