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Switch to Universal Credit doubles number of referrals to foodbanks

Areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out to single people, couples and families have seen a 16.85% increase in the number of people being referred to foodbanks – more than double the national average.

In a report drawn up by charity Trussell Trust, called Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Food Banks, it was found that between April 2016 and March this year, the number of people claiming emergency food supplies for more than three days rose to 1,182,000.

This led the trust to warn the government that the effect of the six-plus week waiting period for payments in the Universal Credit scheme can have serious consequences.

Having to wait for the cash has reportedly led to more people going to foodbanks and suffering from mental health problems due to rent arrears and the threat of eviction.

The charity also stated that those in insecure or seasonal work were particularly affected, which suggests that the work incentives in the Universal Credit were not helping everyone.

Concerns were also raised about the accessibility of the online system, as many found it difficult to use computers or afford telephone helplines. In some cases, people’s claims were not registered correctly, meaning that some were forced to wait even longer for their benefits payments.

The report comes after a similar warning three years ago from an APPG group that argued issues with benefits was the single biggest cause for the rise in foodbanks. Similarly, the Trussell Trust now warned in its report that benefit delays and changes were responsible for 43% of referrals to foodbanks, whilst low income was the reason for 26% of referrals.

David McAuley, its chief executive, said that the charity reaching its 20-year anniversary underlined the sad reality that foodbanks were still essential to keeping many people in Britain fed.

“Foodbanks in our network tell us that the majority of the people referred to them come because of issues to do with benefit payments,” McAuley explained. “This could be anything from a missed payment for a mum whose heart condition means working would put her life in danger, or a builder who has been laid off and is waiting for his first benefit payment to come through as he looks for a new job.”

The Trussell Trust CEO also added that foodbanks were feeling the impact of the new system of administering benefits, Universal Credit, being rolled out across the country.

“We know the system of benefits right now is too complicated – food banks often speak to people that are experiencing the system for the first time and are struggling to understand how it works and what they need to do,” he said.

“The move to simplify it is a welcome one. However, we also understand that any large reform can have unforeseen consequences.”

Today’s news also follows a study by Oxford University in 2015 which found that emergency food aid was most concentrated in areas that had experienced greater cuts in spending on local services.

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