Food bank use increases in areas where Universal Credit operating the longest

The need for food banks increases in areas where Universal Credit has been in operation the longest, new research suggests.

The Trussell Trust said its food banks in areas where the benefit has been rolled out for at least a year have seen a 30% increase in demand.

Demand jumps to 40% where Universal Credit has been in place for at least 18 months, said the charity.

The Trust urged the Government to end the five-week wait for the benefit, warning that its study showed the longer it was rolled out in an area, the more people were “plunged into poverty”.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie (pictured) said: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty, but the five-week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right, but it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.

“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes. Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty.

“With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This latest shocking data clearly shows that Universal Credit is forcing people to turn to food banks to survive, despite ministers’ repeated efforts to explain away any link.

“It is completely wrong for people to be left waiting five weeks or more for a first payment.

“Advances are not the answer; they are loans that have to be paid back, pushing people further into debt and leaving them vulnerable to scams.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “This report uses unrepresentative data to reach an entirely unsubstantiated conclusion.

“It categorically does not prove that Universal Credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage.

“With UC people can get paid urgently if they need it and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.”

Faye Goldman of Gingerbread said Universal Credit was failing single parents, adding: “Gingerbread has repeatedly called upon the Government to end the five-week wait. This delay in payment pushes already vulnerable families into hardship. This is particularly apparent for single parent families who are often already existing on a financial knife edge.

“Today’s report brings the failings of Universal Credit into sharp focus and clearly shows the longer the new benefits system has been rolled out in an area, the more people are plunged into poverty.”

Iain Porter of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Universal Credit has the potential to be a force for good in our society, but the current design of the system is stifling its ability to provide the support families need.

“The Trussell Trust is right that there is nothing compassionate or just about the initial five-week wait for Universal Credit. Nor can we stand by while the system is forcing families to turn to foodbanks when it should be helping to end the need for them.

“We estimate that two in five families yet to move onto Universal Credit will be unable to meet basic living costs during the five-week wait.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Trussell Trust.