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Call for urgent cut to six-week Universal Credit wait as foodbank demand soars across the UK
586,907 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in first half of this year, a 13% increase on the same period last year – 208,956 to children
Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout for six months or more have seen a 30% average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before
Foodbanks report serious effects of six-plus week waiting period, poor administration and inability of current advance payment system to support everyone on no income
The Trussell Trust unveils five point plan for decision-makers and calls on public for donations to stop people going hungry this Christmas
Between 1st April and 30th September 2017, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 586,907 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 519,342 during the same period last year, 208,956 of these went to children. This is a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average people needed around two foodbank referrals in the last year.* [see notes to editor] The figure, distributed before full Universal Credit rollout accelerated in October 2017, means the foodbank network is already on course to distribute a new record number of food parcels in 2017-18.
The charity is concerned the situation will worsen in the months leading to Christmas when demand for food traditionally spikes, and when the number of foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit service will triple. New analysis of Trussell Trust foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout shows that foodbanks in areas of full rollout for six months or more have seen a 30% average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before. Comparative analysis of foodbanks not in full Universal Credit rollout areas showed an average increase of 12%.**
Trussell Trust data reveals that issues with a benefit payment remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank across the UK, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (25 percent benefit delay; 18 percent benefit change). New analysis of foodbank data*** also shows that:
Of people referred due to a benefit delay, 45% of referrals made due to a wait for a first payment were related to Universal Credit and 36% of referrals made because a new claim had not yet been awarded were related to Universal Credit.
Of people referred due to a benefit change, 38% of referrals made due to a change to a different benefit were related to Universal Credit.
Low income, which refers to anyone in work or on benefits struggling to get by on their income, accounts for 27 percent of referrals – suggesting certain pay and benefit levels are not protecting people from falling into crisis.
Foodbanks are responding to the impact of Universal Credit in a variety of ways but many are reporting extra pressure on food donation stocks, and several have highlighted concerns about volunteers’ time and emotional welfare. Foodbank managers across the UK identify three main obstacles to meeting future need: longer term issues requiring higher than average number of foodbank referrals; overwhelming numbers of people needing help; and food donations not meeting need.
To help prevent people facing hunger at Christmas, The Trussell Trust is asking policy-makers to urgently take action on:
Six-week wait: As a matter of urgency, the 6 week wait for the first payment must be cut to make sure people aren’t left without money and in need of a foodbank. To start with, the two waiting periods, a week at the start of a claim and a week after a month’s assessment period, should be reduced.
Advance loan repayment: there must be better availability of advance loans which are affordable to repay and do not throw people back into crisis. A three month grace period before starting repayments should be made available, as well as information about paying back smaller proportions of an advance loan so people can agree an appropriate repayment plan.
Poor administration: 1/5 of people are waiting for longer than 6 weeks****; documents are being lost; people are being overpaid or underpaid; and finding themselves in debt or rent arrears. These issues should be assessed and tackled across rollout areas.
Transition between legacy benefits and Universal Credit: when someone moves onto Universal Credit, any benefit previously paid automatically stops. All benefit payments should run on until Universal Credit payments start, with a focus on Housing Benefit.
Benefit level freeze: although Universal Credit rollout is a key concern, foodbank referral data and University of Oxford research suggest benefit levels more widely are not preventing people from reaching crisis point. Ahead of the Budget, the Government should reassess its current four-year freeze on benefit levels.
Mark Ward, Interim Chief Executive at The Trussell Trust, said:
“We’re seeing soaring demand at foodbanks across the UK. Our network is working hard to stop people going hungry but the simple truth is that even with the enormous generosity of our donors and volunteers, we’re concerned foodbanks could struggle to meet demand this winter if critical changes to benefit delivery aren’t made now. People cannot be left for weeks without any income, and when that income does come, it must keep pace with living costs – foodbanks cannot be relied upon to pick up the pieces.
“Our five point plan isn’t going to fix everything – but these emergency measures would help mitigate some of the damage we’re worried will otherwise take place. Without urgent action from policy-makers and even more generous practical support from the public, we don’t know how foodbanks are going to stop families and children going hungry this Christmas.”
The Trussell Trust is therefore calling for help from the public to make sure people in crisis get the support needed. To find information on what items of stock are most needed at individual foodbanks, find their website via https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/ and click on the links to “Give help”/”Donate food”.