Uni­ver­sal Credit moves ‘in­crease food­bank use’

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - News - BY ALAN JONES news@west­erndai­ly­press.co.uk

PLANS to move more peo­ple onto Uni­ver­sal Credit could spark a huge in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple us­ing food­banks, the Gov­ern­ment is be­ing warned.

The Trus­sell Trust, which is based in Wilt­shire and runs more than 400 food­banks across the UK, said is­sues with ben­e­fits were the main rea­son for re­fer­rals to re­ceive emer­gency food sup­plies.

Peo­ple mov­ing on to Uni­ver­sal Credit were in­creas­ingly ac­count­ing for more re­fer­rals to food­banks, said the Trust. Wait­ing for the first pay­ment and mov­ing to the new sys­tem are blamed for caus­ing “hard­ship”.

Emma Re­vie, the Trust’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “We cre­ated our ben­e­fits sys­tem in this coun­try to free peo­ple from poverty, not lock them into it.

“As we look at the cur­rent plans for the next stage of Uni­ver­sal Credit, we’re re­ally wor­ried that our net­work of food­banks could see a big in­crease in peo­ple need­ing help.

“Leav­ing three mil­lion peo­ple to wait at least five weeks for a first pay­ment – es­pe­cially when we have al­ready de­cided they need sup­port through our old ben­e­fits or tax cred­its sys­tem – is just not good enough.

“The De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions has shown they can act on ev­i­dence from the front­line to make a real dif­fer­ence to peo­ple who need our ben­e­fits sys­tem’s vi­tal sup­port.

“Now is the time for our Gov­ern­ment to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for mov­ing peo­ple cur­rently on the old sys- tem over, and to en­sure no-one faces a gap in pay­ments when that moves hap­pens.”

The Trust said food­bank de­mand in ar­eas where Uni­ver­sal Credit has been in place for at least 12 months in­creased by 52 per cent, com­pared with 13 per cent in ar­eas where the new ben­e­fit had been in place for three months or less.

A De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions spokesman said: “Uni­ver­sal Credit sim­pli­fies an out-of-date, com­plex legacy sys­tem.

“It re­moves the ’16 hour rule’ which dis­in­cen­tivised work, and cov­ers 85 per cent of child­care costs to sup­port claimants in work.

“Each claimant is as­signed a oneto-one work coach, who is able to pro­vide tai­lored sup­port, ad­dress­ing each in­di­vid­ual’s spe­cific needs and bar­ri­ers into work.

“Through our ’test and learn’ ap­proach, sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments have been made to the sys­tem, such as mak­ing 100 per cent ad­vances avail­able, re­mov­ing the seven wait­ing days, and pro­vid­ing two ad­di­tional weeks of hous­ing ben­e­fit for claimants mov­ing from legacy ben­e­fits to Uni­ver­sal Credit.

“We are work­ing closely with char­i­ties, busi­nesses and other stake­hold­ers to de­sign the best pos­si­ble process for the mi­gra­tion of peo­ple on to Uni­ver­sal Credit.

“Dur­ing 2019 we will test and re­fine our pro­cesses to en­sure they are work­ing well be­fore we take on larger vol­umes from 2020 on­wards.

“We will com­mu­ni­cate with claimants to en­sure they are pre­pared, through a va­ri­ety of ap­proaches.”

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