Ministers have been asked to overhaul the Universal Credit system after fresh claims that the built-in five week wait for payments is causing poverty and increased food bank use.
The main food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, are claiming the automatic delay before benefits are made could have a rapid, devastating and long-lasting impact on claimants’ finances, housing security and mental health.
The Trust said claimants who are unable to cope without income during the waiting period faced destitution. They were unable to afford food, frequently went without meals, failed to pay utility bills, ran up rent arrears and risked eviction.
Universal Credit bundles together six working-age benefits into one monthly payment. It was originally due to be fully operational in 2017 but the current deadline is 2023, when about 7 million people will depend on it.
Food bank use has soared by a third in areas where universal credit had operated for a year, it said, drawing on data from 414 food banks. Demand for food parcels increased by 40 per cent where universal credit had been in place for at least 18 months, and 48 per cent where it had been established for at least two years.
The research cited the case of a man with severe mental illness, who did not eat for nine days after being left with no income after claiming universal credit. His health had declined to the point where he “didn’t feel well enough to leave the house to get a food bank voucher”.
Repayable advance loans issued to claimants to tide them over simply created long-term difficulties for claimants as they paid them back, in effect leaving them “deciding between hardship now or later”.
“Universal credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty. But the five-week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution,” said Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie.
The Trust called for a significant reduction in the five-week wait to ensure claimants were paid much sooner.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor