Anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust fears the next stage of Universal Credit – which will see three million people moving from tax credits and the old benefits system onto the new system – could lead to a significant increase in foodbank use as new research highlights a major increase in the proportion of foodbank referrals made for people moving onto Universal Credit.
Issues with benefits are the main reason for all Trussell Trust foodbank referrals. Analysis of data from frontline agencies referring to foodbanks across the UK between April 2016 and April 2018 shows that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.
The findings come as the Department for Work and Pensions finalises its plans for the next stage of Universal Credit to take to Parliament later this month. Until now, only people making a new application for benefits in certain areas have been able to apply for Universal Credit. This next stage – ‘managed migration’ – will see the three million people currently receiving tax credits or benefit payments under the old system sent a letter telling them to reapply for these payments under Universal Credit.
Each person will have to wait at least five weeks for the first payment, and if people miss the deadline for application, could face having all their payments stopped. The Trussell Trust says this is particularly concerning because many people most in need of financial support will be in this group, with the majority relying on payments for housing, half claiming tax credits, and a third claiming disability benefits. Previous research shows half of people at foodbanks have a disability or health condition, or live with someone that does, suggesting they are already more likely to need a foodbank’s help.
Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, explains:
“We created our benefits system in this country to free people from poverty, not lock them into it. As we look at the current plans for the next stage of Universal Credit, we’re really worried that our network of foodbanks could see a big increase in people needing help. Leaving three million people to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – especially when we have already decided they need support through our old benefits or tax credits system – is just not good enough.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. We know the problems people are likely to face as they move over to the new system, so we can learn from them. The Department for Work and Pensions has shown they can act on evidence from the frontline to make a real difference to people who need our benefits system’s vital support. Now is the time for our Government to take responsibility for moving people currently on the old system over, and to ensure no one faces a gap in payments when that moves happens. Universal Credit needs to be ready for anyone who might need its help, and it needs to be ready before the next stage begins.”
The Trussell Trust recommends the Government moves people onto Universal Credit – rather than leaving people to make their own claim – to ensure there is no gap between old and new benefits payments; expands Universal Support, the wraparound digital and financial support service that should come with every Universal Credit claim; and publishes a schedule for the next stage of Universal Credit, ensuring there are opportunities to review the process and make changes whilst it is underway if needed.