Demand on foodbank hits new record ‘every month’

PUBLISHED: 08:19 22 November 2018 | UPDATED: 08:48 22 November 2018

Uttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Uttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

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The charity which runs Uttlesford Foodbank says it is experiencing “soaring levels of need” due to problems with Universal Credit.

Uttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDUttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Trussell Trust said its network provided 16,642 emergency supplies in Essex between April and September. Of those, 10,304 were for adults and 6,338 for children.

That’s a 24 per cent increase on the same period in 2017, when 13,434 food parcels were handed out.

National research by the charity showed that delays with Universal Credit were the main reason for foodbank referrals.

Uttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDUttlesford Foodbank in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

A Government spokesman said it was “wrong to link a rise to any one cause”.

The trust expects these numbers to rise towards the end of the year, as people typically collect more food parcels over winter.

Sophie Durlacher, from Uttlesford Foodbank, which is run by the Trussell Trust, said Universal Credit is now being recorded as a reason for referral because it is being mentioned “time and time again”.

“Month on month we are seeing an increase in foodbank usage - August 2018 saw more than 100 per cent increase on August 2017,” Sophie said. Every month is our busiest month ever, and there doesn’t look to be any downturn soon.

“We are now recording Universal Credit as a reason for referral as it is being mentioned time and again. Figures from the council show that of the 17 discretionary hardship payments made, they were all attributable to the impact of Universal Credit on claimants.”

Uttlesford District Council paid out more than £14,000 in discretionary hardship payments between April 2017 and November 2018 to people who were being “negatively” affected by Universal Credit to some degree.

“Aside from the numbers, it’s the clients who really tell the story and it is one of despair,” Sophie said. “I get contacted now by people who tell me they’ve just been put on Universal Credit and they have no idea how they are going to cope and they know they will need the foodbank.

“There is a palpable sense that they are battening down the hatches knowing that real poverty and hardship is coming. I have clients who previously were supporters of the foodbank and now find themselves needing to seek help from us.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, which supports 428 foodbanks across the UK including Uttlesford, said they are seeing “soaring levels of need at food banks”.

She said: “If the five-week wait isn’t reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five-week wait.

“Foodbanks cannot continue to pick up the pieces - we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger.”

Across the East of England, the number of food parcels handed out increased by 14 per cent over the time period.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Universal Credit replaces an out of date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment.

“We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.

“This is on top of the improvements we have already made - advances have increased to 100 per cent, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto Universal Credit.

“The reasons why people use foodbanks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”

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