Universal Credit blamed for creating taxing time at food banks

BY CALUM FRASER
calum@slpmedia.co.uk

Food bank volunteers are blaming the introduction of Universal Credit for an increase in the number of people using the services.

There has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of individuals using Lewisham food bank services.

In the six month period from April to September 2017, there were 1,429 vouchers presented, which turned into 2,644 three-day portions of food given out, this went up to 1,665 vouchers and 3,374 three-day portions in the same period this year.

Carol Bostridge, a chief operating officer covering the branches in Lewisham, Catford, Forest Hill and New Cross, said: “We are seeing increased numbers of people needing our help. Many of these are families struggling to feed their children.”

The Norwood and Brixton food bank provided 4,493 three day emergency food supplies to families between April and September this year. Of this number, 1,721 went to children.

The figures are a 1.5 per cent increase on the same period last year.

A spokeswoman for the Norwood and Brixton Trussell Trust branch said: “We share the concerns of other food banks in The Trussell Trust’s network about the Government’s new benefits system, Universal Credit.

“We have observed more and more clients attending the Norwood and Brixton food bank due to benefit related issues. “Often as clients are moved on to Universal Credit from Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment support allowance.

They regularly have to wait six weeks or more until their benefits are paid, and in some cases have not been told about the advance payment that they can receive.”

Universal Credit is a UK social security payment that is intended to simplify working age benefits and to incentivise paid work.

It is replacing six means-tested benefits and tax credits: income-based employment and support allowance, income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit and child tax credit.

Jon Taylor, Brixton food bank manager said: “It’s a real concern that in only six months we’ve provided 4,493 emergency supplies to local people. “These figures don’t even cover our busiest time of year – as the colder weather draws in, we often find more people needing our help.

“It’s not right that anyone in South London is being forced to turn to our food bank.

“Our volunteers offer vital support when it matters most, but they should not need to. We want to see an end to local people needing emergency food – with a benefits’ system that catches people before they fall into crisis, and secure work that provides people with enough money to cover the cost of essentials, we could reach that future.”

A spokeswoman for the department for work and pensions said: “Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment.

“We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1 billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.

“This is on top of the improvements we have already made – advances have increased to 100 per cent, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto Universal Credit.

“The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”

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