More people are turning to food banks in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, a new report has revealed.
In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for at least a year, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network have seen a 30% increase in demand. In areas with the new system for at least 18 months, this jumps to 40%, and increases again to 48% for food banks in areas with Universal Credit for at least two years.*
NIFHA, as a member of both the #CliffEdgeNI and Four Fed #6Asks campaigns, is calling for welfare reform mitigations to be extended and strengthened to protect thousands of vulnerable people.
NIFHA Deputy Chief Executive Patrick Thompson commented on the new report’s findings.
“Study after study has shown that, instead of helping those who are most in need, some of the recent welfare reforms are in fact punishing people for circumstances that are beyond their control.”
“NIFHA calls on all our public representatives, and all candidates standing in the general election, to publicly declare their commitment to securing this reform.”
NIFHA, along with the Trussell Trust and other members of both the #CliffEdge NI and Four Feds’ #6Asks campaigns, is also urging the government to end the five week wait** for Universal Credit.
The Trussell Trust’s report highlights that, while the Department for Work and Pensions has attempted to find solutions to issues with Universal Credit, the wait for a first benefit payment, which is often longer than five weeks, is continuing to cause unnecessary hardship. Government loans, which are currently offered during the wait, are also pushing more people into debt, the charity says.
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.
“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.”
A similar pattern of financial hardship in areas where Universal Credit has rolled out is revealed by new evidence in the report from the Riverside Group, a large provider of social housing and homelessness services.
On average, people claiming Universal Credit at July 2019 had experienced a 42% increase in rent arrears since roll out began in 2015. By stark contrast, those claiming Housing Benefit (the previous ‘legacy’ benefits system) experienced a 20% decrease , analysis shows.
Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at Riverside said
“Riverside is calling on the government to end the five week wait for Universal Credit because increasing numbers of our tenants are experiencing hardship while waiting for their first payment. Our data clearly shows that the wait is causing many of our tenants to get into rent arrears which can take months or even years to clear.
“A recent survey of many of our tenants told us that they are struggling to keep afloat when they move onto Universal Credit; the long wait means that many people are going without food or heating and they are forced to use food banks in order to feed their families. We welcome the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit is intended to bring, but the way Universal Credit is being implemented means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”
The #5WeeksTooLong study also reveals the detrimental impact the wait is having on people’s mental health. Many people reported experiencing high levels of anxiety, especially as they did not how much they would receive and when. Some even reported feeling suicidal.
Mike had to resign from his work as a support worker to care for his mother who was diagnosed with a long-term disease. During this time he had to claim Universal Credit. He found that he could no longer manage to pay his rent after he took an Advance Payment:
“It’s made me go from being a confident lad who loved working with vulnerable people to ending up needing the support I used to offer others. Now I’m unable to support them or myself.”
The Trussell Trust and Riverside are not alone in issuing this stark warning. Through the #5WeeksTooLong campaign, the Trussell Trust is united with 45 other organisations and more than 14,000 individuals, in urging the government to end the five week wait now.
* Overall percentage increase in food parcels provided in the 12, 18, and 24 months from when Universal Credit ‘goes live’ in the relevant local authority. Due to the gradual rollout of Universal Credit, sample sizes decrease: data covers 185, 101 and 37 food banks respectively.
** The initial wait for Universal Credit is built into the design of the new benefits system – each claimant moving onto Universal Credit must wait at least five weeks before receiving their first Universal Credit payment. While the wait was reduced from six to five weeks in February 2018 as a result of 2017 Budget changes, this is still a substantially longer wait than for legacy benefits, which is typically around two weeks.