The longer Universal Credit exists in an area, the higher the need for foodbanks, says new report

By agency reporter
September 19, 2019

In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for at least a year, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network have seen a 30 per cent increase in demand. In  areas with the new system for at least 18 months this jumps to 40 per cent, and increases again to 48 per cent for food banks in areas which have had Universal Credit for at least two years.

The Trussell Trust is urging the government to end the five week wait for Universal Credit, as it publishes a new report revealing that the longer the new benefits system has been rolled out in an area, the more people are plunged into poverty.

The charity says that the wait for a first benefit payment, which is often longer than five weeks, is continuing to cause unnecessary hardship. Government loans, which are currently offered during the wait, are also pushing more people into debt, the charity says.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty.  But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.

“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes.  Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty. With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”

A similar pattern of financial hardship in areas where Universal Credit has rolled out is revealed by new evidence in the report from the Riverside Group, a large provider of social housing and homelessness services.

On average, people claiming Universal Credit at July 2019 had experienced a 42 per cent increase in rent arrears since rollout began in 2015. In stark contrast, analysis shows that those claiming Housing Benefit (the previous ‘legacy’ benefits system) experienced a 20 per cent decrease ,

Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at Riverside said: “Riverside is calling on the government to end the five week wait for Universal Credit because increasing numbers of our tenants are experiencing hardship while waiting for their first payment. Our data clearly shows that the wait is causing many of our tenants to get into rent arrears which can take months or even years to clear.

“A recent survey of many of our tenants told us that they are struggling to keep afloat when they move onto Universal Credit; the long wait means that many people are going without food or heating and they are forced to use foodbanks in order to feed their families. We welcome the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit is intended to bring, but the way Universal Credit is being implemented means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”

The #5WeeksTooLong study also reveals the detrimental impact the wait is having on people’s mental health. Many people reported experiencing high levels of anxiety, especially as they did not know how much they would receive and when. Some even reported feeling suicidal.

Mike had to resign from his work as a support worker to care for his mother who was diagnosed with a long-term disease. During this time he had to claim Universal Credit. He found that he could no longer manage to pay his rent after he took an Advance Payment:

“It’s made me go from being a confident lad who loved working with vulnerable people to ending up needing the support I used to offer others. Now I’m unable to support them or myself.”

The Trussell Trust and Riverside are not alone in issuing this stark warning. Through the #5WeeksTooLong campaign the Trussell Trust is united with 45 other organisations and more than 14,000 individuals, in urging the government to end the five week wait now.

The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the Trussell Trust report saying “It categorically does not prove that universal credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage”.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “Our food bank referral data is trusted and the best available data on food bank use in the UK – it is collected from the more than 60,000 agencies that refer people to food banks in our network, and the insights it shows are echoed in the findings of many frontline charities, and over 40 organisations who have joined our campaign.

“It is very disappointing to see the Department for Work and Pensions’ response to this research. The experiences of people on Universal Credit cannot be denied. While the system may work well for many, it’s clear from the evidence of food banks and countless organisations there are also many people being failed. People have used their voice to report the flaws in the system that have pushed them to a food bank and it is crucial our government listens.

“We’ve always been clear – Universal Credit is not the only reason people are referred to food banks, but issues with the new system are clearly pushing people through food banks’ doors. We can do better than this as a country, and we must. We can protect each other from needing food banks – but if we’re to do that, our government needs to be open to hearing when policies aren’t working for people.”

* Read the #5WeeksTooLong report here

* Trussell Trust



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