Universal Credit slammed as figures show sharpest rise in food bank use in five years
The number of people forced to rely on food banks has risen more sharply than any time in the last five years, new figures have revealed.
Data from anti-poverty charity the Trussell Trust shows a 23% increase in emergency food parcels being given out from April to September this year compared to 2018 during the same period.
The 823,145 three-day supply packages are also nearly double the number of parcels handed out during the same six months in 2014, at 492,641.
The charity is calling for the five-week wait for Universal Credit to be scrapped as it found delays to benefit payments made up 18% of the reasons people were forced to food banks, while a further 16% was due to changes in their benefits being paid.
The study found 65% of food bank referrals made over the six months period due to delays in benefit payments were linked to Universal Credit.
Having a low income also made up 36% of the reasons why people in need were referred to the charity.
The Trussell Trust called on all political parties to pledge to protect people from hunger ahead of next month's election, while opposition parties accused the Tories of creating the growing demands through “brutal” cuts.
The charity's chief executive Emma Revie said: “More people than ever before are being forced to food banks’ doors.
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but currently thousands of women, men and children are not receiving sufficient protection from destitution.
“This is not right. But we know this situation can be fixed - our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty.
She added: “This general election, all political parties must pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics.
“We want our next government to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit; ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living; and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis.”
The figures also come a week after the charity’s report into hunger and food bank use, which found the average weekly income of households using food banks is just £50 after paying rent.
It also revealed 94% of food bank users are destitute.
'SOURCE OF SHAME'
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood, said: “It should be a source of shame for this government that food bank use has risen so sharply yet again.
“These figures show clearly how harsh, punitive Conservative policies like the five week wait in Universal Credit are pushing people to the point of destitution.
“Labour will scrap Universal Credit, halve food bank usage within our first year in office and end it within three years. Nobody should ever be forced to turn to food banks to survive.”
Lib Dem work and pensions spokesperson Tim Farron added: “With financial vulnerability the leading cause of food insecurity, the Conservative’s brutal cuts to Universal Credit since 2015 and their senseless two-child limit, the lives of millions have worsened under the Conservatives.”
The party also pledged to introduce a legal right to food as a way to tackle poverty.
Responding to the report, a Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We spend over £95 billion a year on welfare, and have simplified the benefits system through Universal Credit.
"Free school meals are provided for 1.3 million disadvantaged children, and up to £26 million is also being invested in a breakfast club programme.
"People can get Universal Credit urgently if they need it and 95% of payments are made in full and on time."