Universal Credit driving increase in food bank use, admits Amber Rudd

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

Flaws in the design of the Government’s Universal Credit scheme have pushed poor and vulnerable people to food banks, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary has admitted.

The link between Universal Credit and soaring numbers of people turning to food banks has long been disputed by Tory ministers, but in a statement to the Commons the DWP boss Amber Rudd finally finally admitted that the flagship welfare reform has led to widespread hunger.

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.

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

“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.”

The UK’s largest food bank network Trussell Trust provided 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies to people in need between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, including 484,026 children.

In November 2018 the nationwide charity, who operate dozens of food banks across the UK, released figures showing a 13% increase in referrals between April and September 2018, blaming the minimum five week wait for an initial payment of Universal Credit as one of the main causes.

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

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.”

She added: “We’re seeing soaring levels of need at foodbanks. 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.”