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Opinion: Universal Credit fuels use of foodbanks

PUBLISHED: 08:30 18 May 2019

East Ham MP Stephen Timms sees a connection between Universal Credit and an increase in use of foodbanks.

East Ham MP Stephen Timms sees a connection between Universal Credit and an increase in use of foodbanks.

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Foodbank demand is rising. Trussell Trust statistics show 3,554 three-day emergency food supplies were given Newham residents last year. 1,400 went to children.

Nationwide, Trussell Trust foodbanks gave out over 1.5 million emergency food supplies, 18.8 per cent more than in the previous year.

A few weeks ago, Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd admitted to me in parliament that delays in paying the new benefit, Universal Credit, were pushing up foodbank use. It was the first time a government minister had acknowledged it.

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Universal Credit was supposed to lift people out of poverty. It would smooth the transition from unemployment to work by ensuring you would always be better off in a job. Unfortunately - as many of us warned when plans were being drawn up - these good intentions are not being delivered. Universal Credit is causing real hardship for many.

The worst feature is the five week delay between claiming Universal Credit and being entitled to benefit. As a result, 57pc of new claimants have to take out a loan from the Department for Work and Pensions to tide them over. They are forced into debt before they receive any cash.

To justify the delay, ministers claim people will have a month's salary in the bank from their last job. In reality, most do not. They were paid weekly, or were on a zero hours contract, or have moved from another benefit. Five weeks without support just creates misery.

That's not the only problem. Child Poverty Action Group recently reported that benefit notices given to claimants are incomprehensible, don't contain enough information, and are often wrong.

Rocketing foodbank demand shows the new system isn't working. Labour is right to demand that the government ends the benefits freeze, and stops rolling out Universal Credit until the problems have been fixed.


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