Ministers criticised as study claims foodbank hikes linked to length of Universal Credit roll-out
Ministers have been urged to act on “shocking” figures which show a link between how long Universal Credit has been in place in an area and a rise in foodbank use.
Research by The Trussell Trust found that where the controversial benefits scheme has been in place for at least a year, foodbanks in its network have seen a 30% increase in demand.
It also showed the figure rose to 40% over 18 months and then to 48% in areas with Universal Credit for at least two years.
The charity called on ministers to end the five-week wait applicants face before receiving their payment from the system – which was designed to combine all legacy benefits into one but is yet to be rolled out in full.
It said the stretch would see more claimants "plunged into poverty", and said that Government loans as a stopgap were “pushing more people into debt”.
The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty. But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.
“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.
“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes. Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty.
“With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood, said: "This latest shocking data from the Trussell Trust clearly shows that Universal Credit is forcing people to turn to food banks to survive, despite ministers’ repeated efforts to explain away any link.
"It is completely wrong for people to be left waiting five weeks or more for a first payment.
"Advances are not the answer; they are loans that have to be paid back, pushing people further into debt and leaving them vulnerable to scams."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson hit back at the report, which they said “uses unrepresentative data to reach an entirely unsubstantiated conclusion”.
“It categorically does not prove that Universal Credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage,” they added.
“With Universal Credit people can get paid urgently if they need it and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.”
However the Trussell Trust later condemned the Government’s response, by insisting that its “food bank referral data is trusted and the best available data on food bank use in the UK”.
It added: “It is very disappointing to see the Department for Work & Pensions’ response to this research. The experiences of people on Universal Credit cannot be denied.
“While the system may work well for many, it’s clear from the evidence of food banks and countless organisations there are also many people being failed.”