Charity calls for Universal Credit changes as food bank demand hits record levels

Food BankThe Trussell Trust has called for urgent action to improve the system of Universal Credit after new figures revealed a 20% rise in the use of food banks in Scotland in the last year.

According to the charity, a record 76,764 three-day emergency food supply packs were given to people in need in the first half of 2017.

The Trust said research indicated issues with a benefit payment represent the biggest cause of referrals to a food bank in Scotland, accounting for about 42% of cases.

It is urging policy-makers to take immediate action on Universal Credit to help prevent people facing hunger at Christmas.

  1. Six-week wait: As a matter of urgency, the six week wait for the first payment must be cut to make sure people aren’t left without money and in need of a food bank. To start with, the two waiting periods, a week at the start of a claim and a week after a month’s assessment period, should be reduced.
  2. Advance loan repayment: There must be better availability of advance loans which are affordable to repay and do not throw people back into crisis. A three month grace period before starting repayments should be made available, as well as information about paying back smaller proportions of an advance loan so people can agree an appropriate repayment plan.
  3. Poor administration: A fifth of people are waiting for longer than six weeks; documents are being lost; people are being overpaid or underpaid; and finding themselves in debt or rent arrears. These issues should be assessed and tackled across rollout areas.
  4. Transition between legacy benefits and Universal Credit: When someone moves onto Universal Credit, any benefit previously paid automatically stops. All benefit payments should run on until Universal Credit payments start, with a focus on Housing Benefit.
  5. Benefit level freeze: Although Universal Credit rollout is a key concern, food bank referral data and University of Oxford research suggest benefit levels more widely are not preventing people from reaching crisis point. Ahead of the Budget, the Government should reassess its current four-year freeze on benefit levels.
  6. Scotland director of the Trust, Tony Graham, said: “In the first half of this year a record number of people facing destitution and hunger have been referred to The Trussell Trust food bank network in Scotland.

    “Food banks will be working hard to provide dignified, non-judgmental support to people but we are concerned that the ongoing impact of welfare reform - especially Universal Credit roll-out - combined with increased demand we traditionally see over winter will leave food banks struggling to feed everyone that comes through the doors.”

    He added: “Not only would it be morally wrong for us to become a de facto arm of the welfare state - if welfare reform and Universal Credit roll-out continues unchanged, we simply would not be able to catch everyone that falls.”

    A DWP spokesman said: “The reasons for food bank use are wide and complex, and for this report to link it to any one issue would be misleading.

    “We’re clear that advance payments are widely available from the start of anyone’s Universal Credit claim, and urgent cases are fast-tracked so no-one should be without funds.

    “We know the majority of Universal Credit claimants are confident in managing their money.

    “Budgeting support and direct rent payments to landlords are also available to those who need them.”

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