Major food bank charity calls on ministers to axe Universal Credit wait as handouts hit record high
A major food bank charity has called on ministers to slash the wait faced by first-time Universal Credit claimants following their busiest year yet.
Those applying for the beleaguered benefit - which is designed to combine all legacy benefits into one but is yet to be rolled out in full - currently face a five-week stretch before receiving their first payment.
The Trussell Trust say the number of food parcels being handed out jumped by just short of a fifth (18.8%) compared to last year, with almost half (49%) of referrals that were linked to benefits delays being linked to Universal Credit.
Between April 2018 and March 2019, 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis, compared to 1,332,952 the year before.
The figures found the number going to children had crossed the half-million mark, at 577,618 compared to 484,026 in the same period 12 months earlier.
Meanwhile the main reason given for those needing emergency food was a failure of payments to cover the cost of living – in 33.1% of cases – while 20.3% cited delays in benefits being paid and 17.3% said it was down to changes in them.
The number of food parcels distributed across the UK by the charity has increased by 73% since 2013-14.
Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said it was “unacceptable” that anyone should have to use a food bank.
"Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed - that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank," she said.
"Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty.
“Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
"As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households."
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said of the latest figures: “The sharp rise in food bank use over the last year is shocking, and the need for emergency food parcels in one of the richest countries of the world is shameful.
“Nobody in our society should be forced to turn to food banks to survive.
“Labour will end the benefits freeze, stop the rollout of Universal Credit and ensure that our social security system supports any one of us should we need it.”
Some claimants are entitled to an advance loan while waiting for their first payment, subject their application being approved by the Jobcentre.
A spokesperson at the Department for Work and Pensions said of the charity's figures: “It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one.
“It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of food banks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.
“The Trust’s own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.
“The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing.
“For those who need a safety net we have invested £10 billion into Universal Credit since 2016 alone, confirmed the benefits freeze will end next year and made changes to make Universal Credit fairer for women and families.”