North Herts foodbank sees 40 per cent user increase under Universal Credit, research shows
PUBLISHED: 07:01 26 September 2019
A North Herts foodbank has seen a 40 per cent increase in demand since the introduction of Universal Credit, according to new data from the Trussell Trust.
The foodbank charity is urging the government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit, as it publishes a new report revealing that the longer it has taken for the new benefits system to be rolled out in an area, the more people are plunged into poverty.
The Trussell Trust supports the Letchworth Foodbank Distribution Centre, which helps those in need in Letchworth, Hitchin and Baldock.
Letchworth Grange district councillor Daniel Allen, who has been heavily involved in Hitchin and Stevenage-based drop-in charity, Feed Up Warm Up, told the Comet: "It takes more than food to end hunger.
"At all levels of government, we need to come together with charities like the Trussell Trust, The Need Project and the church which support them, of course to feed hungry people, but also to challenge the structural economic issues that lock people in poverty.
"Universal Credit is leaving people hungry. What concerns me most is this seems to be by design.
"No one in the UK should be struggling in food poverty.
"While we need foodbanks I'll support them, but they need to become a thing of the past."
According to the research, on average, people claiming Universal Credit in July 2019 had experienced a 42 per cent increase in rent arrears since rollout began in 2015.
The scheme was rolled out in Stevenage and North Herts in 2018. In contrast, those claiming housing benefit experienced a 20 per cent decrease in arrears, the analysis shows.
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 know how much they would receive and when. Some even reported feeling suicidal.
The Trussell Trust's chief executive Emma Revie said: "Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty.
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"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."
However, the government's Department for Work and Pensions disagreed that Universal Credit had increased poverty levels.
In response to the research, a spokesperson for the DWP said: "This report uses unrepresentative data to reach an entirely unsubstantiated conclusion. It catergorically does not prove that Universal Credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage.
"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."
Ms Revie from the Trussell Trust hit back at the DWP, stating that the charity's foodbank referral data is "trusted and the best available data on foodbank use in the UK".
"It is very disappointing to see the DWP response to this research," she continued.
"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.
"We've always been clear - Universal Credit is not the only reason people are referred to foodbanks, but issues with the new system are clearly pushing people through foodbanks' doors.
"We can do better than this as a country, and we must."
The Letchworth Foodbank's three centres are open on Tuesdays and Friday from 10am to 12 noon.
Food parcels can be collected from Mrs Howard Memorial Hall in Letchoworth, Our Lady's Scout Hall in Hitchin's Nighingale Road and St Mary's Church Hall in Baldock.
For more information or help with Universal Credit, go to citizensadvice.org.uk.
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