End Hunger UK calls on government to fix Universal Credit

By staff writers
July 11, 2018

End Hunger UK is a coalition of charities, faith groups, frontline organisations, academics and individuals working to tackle hunger throughout the UK. It has published a report, FIx Universal Credit: ensuring no one needs to to go to bed hungry in the UK and launched a petition, urging the government to make significant changes to Universal Credit.

The report uses evidence from End Hunger UK’s national member organisations, and over 70 food aid providers, who took part in an online survey during April and May 2018. These providers included both Trussell Trust and independent foodbanks, and a range of other organisations including social supermarkets, soup kitchens and breakfast clubs, who witness the impact of Universal Credit on their users every day. 

Garry Lemon, Director of Policy & Research at The Trussell Trust, said, “Foodbanks see firsthand the impact on people when there’s either no money coming in at all from a benefit payment, or that payment is reduced: young families facing eviction and unavoidable debt, working parents skipping meals, and single men with insecure work struggling to afford the bus fare to work.

“What this briefing shows is that our network’s experience is not unusual. A wide range of food aid providers across the country are meeting people who are currently being trapped by a system that should, and must, be there for any of us when we need it most. We must never forget our benefits system was created to protect people from destitution and hunger.”

In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, foodbanks and other food aid providers report a surge in the numbers of people pushed into greater debt, destitution and hunger as a result of delays, errors, a lack of flexibility and adequate support. They reported four main reasons people applying for, or in receipt of Universal Credit, were being forced to turn to them for help. These four main reasons were: excessive waiting times; delays in receiving payments; debt and loan repayments; and benefit sanctions.

The wait for the first payment (now five weeks, reduced from six weeks) in particular was shown to throw people with few savings into crisis. With 50 per cent of claimants taking an advance payment in the form of a loan, people are experiencing rent and other arrears well into their Universal Credit claim. “Every single client who has been put on UC has stated they are now in more debt than they were before.” “More worryingly debt is becoming a bigger problem, and particularly payday loans and loan sharks. People are encouraged to get an advanced payment on their UC but this causes more problems as deductions are then taken as soon as payments begin to be made. This means we are supporting more people for much longer than we have previously.” 

As a matter of urgency, End Hunger UK is calling on the government to improve the flexibility and support for people on Universal Credit, and make improvements to ensure it does not leave more people at risk of debt and destitution.

Rt Revd Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, said, “It is simply wrong that so many families are forced to use food banks and are getting into serious debt, because of the ongoing failings in the benefits system highlighted in this report and in the recent National Audit Office  report, and which I have heard first hand from local charities. Universal Credit has the potential to simplify the system and improve people’s lives, but only if claimants get the support they need, and are helped, not penalised, when things go wrong. I hope that the Government will listen and act on the clear recommendations in this report.”

The report puts forward a series of short, medium, and long-term policy recommendations.

In the short term:

  • Better training for staff and increased flexibility for claimants
  • Welfare rights and debt advice as part of Universal Support
  • Flexibility in Universal Credit applications to allow for telephone applications
  • Increased awareness and implementation of Alternative Pay Arrangements
  • Improved claimant commitments to ensure conditionality is genuinely tailored to circumstances

In the medium term:

  • improving the design of Universal Credit, to ensure it does not leave more people at risk of debt and destitution
  • Reduce the wait time for first payments of Universal Credit from five weeks to two
  • Reduce the level of advance loan repayments from 40 per cent to 10 per cent per month
  • Introduce a true yellow card warning system before issuing sanctions that involve the actual suspension of Universal Credit payments

In the long term:

  • A commitment to ensure Universal Credit provides people with enough income to afford good food on a regular basis
  • Universal Credit levels brought in line with the actual cost of living
  • Payments for people with disabilities restored to pre-April 2017 levels

End Hunger UK is also launching a petition, urging the government to fix Universal Credit, to be delivered to 10 Downing Street in the run up to the Autumn Statement. The petition says, “We share a vision of a society where everyone has access to good food, and no one has to go to bed hungry. We call on Government to fix Universal Credit to prevent more people falling into debt, destitution and hunger.  We all rely on the welfare safety net being there for us in times of financial stress or hardship.  But Universal Credit is currently failing in this task.”

* Read the report FIx Universal Credit: ensuring no one needs to to go to bed hungry in the UK here

* See the petition here

* End Hunger UK  http://endhungeruk.org

* Trussell Trust https://www.trusselltrust.org/

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