Delayed Universal Credit payments have led to record levels of food bank use
Labour MP Neil Coyle writes following the parliamentary launch of a report by the Trussell Trust ‘Left behind: Is Universal Credit really Universal’.
Yesterday I hosted the Parliamentary launch of the Trussell Trust report: ‘Left behind: Is Universal Credit really Universal’. This research looked at the impact Universal Credit on the rise of foodbank use across our country. Demand for emergency food rations has risen year on year since 2010 and now requires an army of 40,000 volunteers to supply.
This report covered the personal experiences of nearly 300 Universal Credit claimants and put forward constructive proposals for how the Government could improve Universal Credit to ensure it works better for the people it is meant to support. Despite this being a large sample and bigger than some of the evidence base DWP uses to justify its clunky system, Ministers are attempting to dismiss the report as ‘anecdotal’.
This shameful response is an insult to the Trussell Trust, whose vital work now provides 1.3 million packages of help to people in crisis as a direct consequence of Government policy. Ministers are dismissing the damage DWP policies are doing – and not just as a side effect, but as a requirement of inbuilt and unavoidable delays to accessing crucial help. The five week delay before Universal Credit payments are received at the earliest is just one example of state-sponsored poverty damaging the lives of thousands of families.
Half a million children using foodbanks in the UK is not ‘anecdotal’. The catastrophic maladministration of our social security net is contributing to destitution and must not be dismissed. The Government must examine the report and food poverty more widely and stop pretending the DWP crumbling, ‘computer says no’ automated systems are up to the job of delivering the support to which people are entitled.
The biggest foodbank network in the country states that 24 percent of the people they help turn up after benefit delays, and a further fifth because of benefit changes. To dismiss this as ‘anecdotal’ is to perpetuate the difficulties people face and ignore the extent of the problem. It also represents the extension of the hostile environment from the Home Office to another key area of Government policy. Junior Green, Judy Griffiths and Kenneth Williams were initially dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ cases before the Home Office was forced to admit its horrendous treatment of the Windrush generation. Trussell Trust has been working to flag up what the drivers for the massive rise in demand for foodbanks has been and Ministers should stop attempting to evade public concerns.
In my borough, Southwark, the rollout of Universal Credit has had a dramatic impact. It has driven thousands of local people into debt and destitution. Southwark Foodbank reported handing out over 4,000 parcels last year – and this is on top of other churches and mosques that offer additional support. Every week I see people struggling with this system and who cannot comprehend the Government’s attempt to justify the hardships it imposes on British people. A system that even prevents people being able to eat properly. I have to refer people to foodbanks every week and even keep some basic hygiene, sanitary, baby products and dry foods in my constituency office to provide emergency provisions on the spot, mostly donated by local party members.
The Government’s response cannot be as blinkered as it was initially with Windrush families. The same permissive, dismissive undercurrent that allowed the Windrush scandal to happen must also be driven out of DWP.
Neil Coyle is the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Chair of the APPG on Foodbanks