Universal Credit couple say they were forced to steal food to feed baby

An Iceland store. Photo: Alwyn Ladell via Flickr (cc).

A young couple say they were forced to steal food to feed their baby after being made to wait weeks for a Universal Credit payment, it has been reported.

Lincolnshire Live reports that Shane Norman and Stacey Lawson used their child’s push chair to conceal food worth £21 from an Iceland store on 5 October last year, claiming they couldn’t continue relying on food banks.

Under Universal Credit new claimants have to wait a minimum of five weeks before receiving their first payment.

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

The couple appeared at Lincoln Magistrates Court on 14 February this year (2019), charged with theft.

Prosecutor Emma Wright told the court: “On October 5 last year, both Mr Norman and Miss Lawson entered Iceland in Lincoln and concealed a number of items and left the store.

“In interview, they admitted the offence and that it was unlawful. They said they were going to eat the items and wash clothes.”

Defending the couple’s actions, Mark McNeil said: “The couple were caught in a benefits gap as it was changing over to universal credit.

“They were left for weeks without any income. This was an act of desperation.

“Had the benefits been paid on time as they should be, they would have not found themselves in this situation.”

“They could not keep going to the food bank to get their meals”, he said.

Shane Norman was given a conditional discharge of nine months, and ordered to pay £11 compensation and a victim surcharge of £20.

His partner Stacey Lawson was also given a conditional discharge of nine months, and ordered to pay £30 compensation and a £20 victim surcharge.

Changes to the controversial Universal Credit payment system mean that claimants can now ask for advance payments that are paid back over time.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0]

The news comes soon after Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured above) admitted to MPs that Universal Credit has pushed people to food banks.

“It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit”, she told MPs.

“And the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.

“We have made changes to accessing Universal Credit so that people can have advances, so that there is a legacy run-on after two weeks, of housing benefit, and we believe that will help with food insecurity.”

She continued: “I have acknowledged the fact that people had difficulty accessing the money on time as one of the causes for the growth in food banks.

“But we have tried to address that and one of the principal ways of doing that is ensuring every applicant can have advance payment on the day that they apply.”

In November 2018, the UK’s largest Food Bank network Trussell Trust released figures showing a 13% increase in referrals between April and September 2018, whilst blaming the minimum five week wait for an initial payment of Universal Credit as one of the main causes.

Commenting on those figures, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust 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.”

Last updated at 21:06 (GMT) on 16 February 2019.

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