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Food bank demand has rocketed in areas where Universal Credit (UC) has been rolled out, a charity’s research has shown.
According to the Trussell Trust, its food bank network has seen a 30% increase in demand in places that the government’s flagship reform of the benefit system has been in place for a year – a figure which jumps to 40% where UC has been in operation for at least 18 months.
And it gets worse: in places where it’s been running for at least two years, demand has risen by 48%.
On average, people claiming UC in July 2019 had experienced a 42% increase in rent arrears since rollout began in 2015 – while those claiming housing benefit, which UC is designed to replace, experienced a 20% decrease.
The Trussell Trust says the wait for a first UC payment, which is often longer than five weeks, is continuing to cause unnecessary hardship.
The charity is urging the government to end the five-week wait for UC - while, it says, government loans, which are offered during the wait, are also pushing more people into debt.
Emma Revie, the Trussell Trust’s chief executive, said: “UC 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.
“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. UC was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.
“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes. Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty. With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure UC is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”