THE number of people forced to rely on a food bank for essential sustenance in the six months to September went up 13% compared to the same period in 2017, claims the Trussell Trust.
Between April and September 2018, the organisation said its foodbank network had provided 658,048 parcels of emergency aid to people, and it points the finger at Universal Credit as a major source of this rising need.
Benefit levels are failing to cover essential living costs, the charity said, adding that issued with payments remain the most common reason for people being referred to a foodbank. If the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment is not reduced, then the charity says the only way to prevent even more people being forced to use a foodbank this winter is to pause all new claims for Universal Credit.
Foodbanks typically receive more referrals for emergency support during the second half of the financial year, the charity says, raising its concerns that foodbank use this winter will rise further, as hardship experienced annually during the colder months is compounded by more people left waiting at least five weeks for benefit payments.
The Trussell Trust said it welcomes changes to Universal Credit announced in the recent Budget. However much of the support will not come into force until July 2020. To protect people who will move onto Universal Credit before that point, the charity is calling for the Department for Work & Pensions to be resourced to reduce the five week minimum wait for a first payment.
“We created systems like our national health service, fire service and benefits system because we’re a country that believes in protecting each other. Our benefits system is supposed to anchor any of us from being swept into poverty, but if Universal Credit is to do that, we need to see urgent changes,” said Emma Revie, the trust’s chief executive.
“It’s not right that people are being forced to use foodbanks after weeks of waiting for Universal Credit payments. The changes announced in last week’s Budget are a good start – but they won’t solve all of the problems foodbanks see, and they won’t help people making new claims this winter.
“We’re seeing soaring levels of need at foodbanks. The time to act is now. If the five week wait isn’t reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five week wait. Foodbanks cannot continue to pick up the pieces – we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger.”
A national petition calling on the Government to fix Universal Credit from the End Hunger UK campaign, backed by The Trussell Trust and a range of charities and faith groups, was delivered to 10 Downing Street yesterday.