Amber Rudd has finally admitted that the Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme has been responsible for driving record numbers of people to foodbanks, but still insists the new benefit is “a force for good”.
The new Work and Pensions Secretary, who took over the role from Esther McVey, made the comments during a visit to a Jobcentre in Longton, Staffordshire.
The visit was part of what she decribed as a “nationwide tour” to promote Universal Credit, which has been beset with problems since its introduction and has faced widespread criticism from both MPs and charities alike.
She said: “I recognise that there have been problems as it [Universal Credit] has been taken forward.
“That has made people fearful of it, and so one of the reasons I’m visiting different Jobcentres is to speak to the work coaches, and to clients as well, to find out what has been working well for them, as well as what hasn’t been.”
She continued: “There have been issues previously, when UC started, with the time it took to get people the money that they needed, and we have addressed some of those.
“First of all, the vast majority of people, around 84 per cent, get the money they are expecting on time. I want to continue the improvement on that. It wasn’t like that when it first started.
“I’ve been told that in this office, there were three people on the Friday before Christmas who were able to get advanced payments on their application that day.
“It was those elements, of getting the money into people’s hands earlier which were critical to stop the growth in foodbanks.
“I regret the growth there has been in food banks and I hope that these changes will stop that.”
However, Amber Rudd said she still believes Universal Credit “is a force for good”, that delivers “better outcomes for people” than the benefits it replaces.
“It offers what we seek it to offer, which is to be a safety net and also to help people into work, without the terribly huge tax rate that there used to be.”
In November, the UK’s largest foodbank network Trussell Trust published figures showing a 13% increase in users between April and September 2018.
The charity attributed the rise to the minimum five week wait for new Universal Credit claims before people they receive an initial payment.
Commenting, Chief Executive Emma Revie said: “We created systems like our national health service, fire service and benefits system because we’re a country that believes in protecting each other.
“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 foodbanks after weeks of waiting for Universal Credit payments.”
“We’re seeing soaring levels of need at foodbanks”, she added. “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 foodbanks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five week wait.
“Foodbanks cannot continue to pick up the pieces – we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger.”