The UK’s largest food bank charity Trussell Trust has called on the UK Government to end the minumum five-week wait for Universal Credit, as new figures reveal that more people than ever are donating food to the charity’s growing number of food banks.
New figures released today show 3,072 tonnes of food were donated to food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network in December 2019.
While donations have kept pace with rising demand from people suffering the full weight of a decade of austerity measures, including harsh benefit cuts, Trussell Trust says soaring numbers of people are becoming trapped in poverty due to low benefit incomes and draconian welfare changes.
The charity points out Universal Credit is not the only benefit payment people at food banks experience problems with, but one of the key issues forcing people to food banks is the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.
While advances are available to those who may struggle to make ends meet during the initial wait for Universal Credit, these must be gradually repaid through deductions to future monthly payments that critics argue are plunging vulnerable people into a cycle of inescapeable debt.
A recent YouGov survey found that half of the UK public has taken action to address hunger and its causes in the last 12 months, with more than a third donating food to a food bank.
The Trussell Trust is urging the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to “do more to make sure Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable” but ending the five-week wait and ensure that benefit payments cover basic living costs.
They have also called on the Government to increase investment in local emergency support for people in crisis.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “Food banks were truly overwhelmed by the level of generosity from the public in the run up to Christmas.
“These donations show communities and individuals, driven by compassion and justice, are doing what they can to help people facing hunger, but no charity can replace the dignity of having enough money to buy your own food.
“We know this can change. It’s now time for our new Chancellor to do his part in the forthcoming Budget and match these acts of compassion by doing the right thing and putting money back into the pockets of people who most need support.
“It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. To reach that future, we need to make sure everyone has enough money for the essentials.
“The government’s first priority must be ensuring our benefits system anchors us all from the rising tide of poverty by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit.”
Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, the Trussell Trust’s food bank network distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19% increase on the previous year.
More than half a million of these went to hungry children.
During a visit to Salisbury city on Tuesday 3rd December 2019, Boris Johnson was asked if his party’s pledges would decrease the use of food banks.
He said: “I do (hope it will decrease). We need to be tackling it in every possible way. We want to help people with the cost of living and it’s an absolute crusade for me.
“When I was running London we did an awful lot to support and help food banks and to help the poorest and needy.
“I applaud everybody who gets involved with running food banks but clearly it is wrong that people should be dependent on them.
“That’s why we’re lifting the living wage by the biggest ever amount, up to £10.50 an hour, reducing the age threshold down to 21 year-olds, cutting national insurance for everybody will make a difference.
“It is imperative in my view that the next government, if I’m lucky enough to be leading it, tackles the cost of living for everybody in this country, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Figures due to be published by the Trussell Trust in March are expected to show that demand on food banks is continuing to grow, in the wake of seemingly empty promises that austerity has come to an end.