I recently set up the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Foodbanks. Today’s meeting was on Universal Credit and its impact on foodbanks. It made for very tough listening.
We heard from a welfare rights advisor from CPAG who told us that foodbanks in ‘full service areas’ for Universal Credit (UC) have seen a 30% jump in demand already. Southwark Foodbank spoke of the dramatic rise in children needing their help after UC was extended to parents. We heard that UC is expected to leave a million children in poverty.
We also heard from some people directly affected. One man was absent and a safeguarding alert is out as he missed a very important meeting yesterday about whether he is being evicted or not. He has mental health issues and we are all very concerned for his welfare.
Another man told us of the difficulties he has faced since being diagnosed with a terminal illness. He should not have faced the delays and barriers to accessing the right help. He is technically still in work, but past the point of being eligible for sickness payments but receives sporadic holiday pay he has accrued.
Those payments have contributed to the insensitive UC administration system failing to understand his circumstances. He spoke movingly about considering suicide due to the terrible situation UC put him in. He has worked all his life and told us that he had to ‘swallow his pride’ to accept foodbank help.
He and another speaker spoke openly of their ‘demoralising’ and ‘degrading’ feelings about going to a foodbank. Southwark foodbank’s manager told us of the stress and anxiety UC has piled onto people seeking their help.
UC was supposed to simplify benefits; it is failing as jobcentres are unable to explain how to enter and use online journals properly or account for childcare costs or fluctuating incomes for example.
UC was supposed to better support people in work but is failing the self-employed and anyone on a zero-hour contract. The Government also axed work allowances, undermining any claims from Ministers that UC helps people into employment.
UC was also supposed to save money. It directly axes things like Severe Disability Premium and other help, hitting over 430,000 disabled people. But UC may not be helping the Treasury at all given that it is heaping new costs on the NHS, councils and courts which the Government is currently choosing to ignore. Sadly, the terrible toll it is taking on individuals was also all too apparent today.