By Chris York
The number of Britons relying on food handouts is set to reach record levels this Christmas, fuelled largely by continuing problems with the rollout of Universal Credit (UC), the UK’s largest foodbank charity has warned.
New figures from the Trussell Trust show December 2017 saw a 49% increase in the number of three-day emergency packs distributed compared to the monthly average and the charity expects an even bigger rise this year.
Winter already places huge pressure on those struggling to make ends meet with many families having to choose between heating their homes or eating.
This Christmas the problem will be compounded as benefits claimants being transferred onto the new UC system have a minimum five-week wait for their first payment.
The figures also reveal the year-on-year need for foodbanks during the festive season is increasing steeply, with 2017′s figure 10% higher than 2016.
The Trussell Trust’s Chief Executive, Emma Revie, said: “Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy but what we’re seeing is the festive period becoming increasingly stressful for more and more people across the country.
“Our benefits system is supposed protect us all from being swept into poverty – but what we’re seeing is people struggling to heat homes and put food on the table because they simply cannot afford the basics anymore and that just isn’t right.”
Universal Credit has proven to be a highly controversial policy for the government, with delays to initial payments leaving some claimants relying on food banks and struggling to pay their bills.
It was introduced ostensibly to simplify the benefits system, rolling six types of payments under the old system into one.
Last month, veteran MP Frank Field claimed the system was driving women in his constituency into sex work in a bid to avoid complete poverty.
Meanwhile, thousands more benefits claimants are set to be moved onto the Universal Credit system next year, despite warnings from charities.
Revie said: “Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place. We do not want to be here in the long-term, continuing to pick up the pieces.
“That’s why we’re urging the Government to ensure benefits payments reflect the cost of living and reduce the waiting time for Universal Credit to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”
In her first Commons appearance as the new Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd last week admitted there are “problems” with the Government’s flagship welfare programme despite its “good intentions”.
“I’ve seen them for myself,” she said, adding that she would be listening and learning from experts in the field.
There are stark regional differences in the numbers of people relying on foodbanks, with Wales the worst affected, followed closely by Scotland and the north-west.
Earlier this year HuffPost UK reported how in Liverpool the rollout of Universal Credit is referred to as “the slow killer”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The reasons for people using food banks are complex, and it would be wrong to link a rise to any one cause.
“No one should have to face hardship with Universal Credit and we have made 100% advances available from day one.
“For families that need extra support we are spending £90 billion a year on working-age welfare, and we recently announced a £39 million partnership with Citizens Advice to support vulnerable people to make and manage their Universal Credit claim.”
(Infographics supplied by Statista)