Campaigners call for benefits reform as foodbank use hits record high

Campaigners have urged the UK government to urgently halt Universal Credit as new figures show foodbank use in Scotland has soared to record levels.

Figures released by the Trussell Trust show a 17% increase in people relying on foodbanks to subsist - against a UK average rise of 13%.

Data shows 170,625 three-day emergency food supplies handed to those in crisis – of which 55,038 went to children.

Of those referred to foodbanks, over a third said they had waited longer than six weeks for their first Universal Credit payment while 30% received an underpayment.

Key findings of the report were:

  • 170,625 food parcels were distributed in Scotland in 2017/18 - 17% more than in the previous year
  • 55,038 parcels went to children
  • 28% of referrals were on a low income, receiving benefits (up from 22% in 2016/17)
  • Debt accounted for 8% of referrals, up from 7% last year
  • Benefits delays (22%) and benefit changes (18%) accounted for a large number of referrals
  • Tony Graham, director of Scotland at The Trussell Trust, said: “We expect no one should be left hungry or destitute. Illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us and we owe it to each other to ensure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most. Universal credit is the future of our benefits system.

    “It’s vital we get it right and ensure levels of payment protect everyone, particularly groups of people we know are already more likely to need a food bank – disabled people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”

    Data shows that benefit delays and sanctions remain the biggest reason for people being referred. Some of those referred are disabled, are sick, suffer mental disabilities and severe social disadvantage, or are vulnerable in other ways.

    The Trussell Trust wants the UK government unfreeze and uprate Child Benefit in line with inflation rates, guarantee that work pays for parents receiving universal credit, and ensure access to free school meals for all parents who need them.

    Emma Revie, chief executive, said: “As a nation we value justice and compassion, particularly for our children. But this research shows families across Britain are locked in poverty, with income so low they are unable even to afford to put food on their children’s plates.”

    Scottish Labour said it will push amendments to the Social Security Bill at Holyrood tomorrow to increase child benefit by £5 a week.

    Party spokesperson for the eradication of poverty and inequality, Elaine Smith, said: “These figures should be a burning source of shame to those in power.

    “Government ministers claim that the fundamentals of our economy are strong - soaring food bank use shows that our economy is fundamentally broken.

    “Across the UK Labour would end the benefits freeze - and in Scotland we would increase child benefit by £5 a week. We’ll put this to a vote in the Scottish Parliament this week in the Social Security Bill.

    “The eradication of poverty and inequality should now be central to every government policy.”

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said it was wrong to link increased food bank use to any one cause.

    She said: “This research is based on anecdotal evidence from a small, self-selecting sample of less than 0.04% of current Universal Credit claimants, whereas Universal Credit is working for the vast majority who claim it.

    “It was also carried out before our significant improvements to Universal Credit came into effect at the Budget; such as 100% advances, which support people before their first payment, removing the seven waiting days and two weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto Universal Credit.

    “Since 2010, one million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty and employment is at a record high with over 3.2 million more people in work - equating to an extra 1,000 people employed a day, every day.

    “Meanwhile we continue to spend £90bn a year on welfare to support those who need it most. The best way to help people improve their lives is through employment, with people on Universal Credit moving into work faster and staying in work longer.”

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