Benefit cuts under universal credit lead to record increase in Scottish foodbank use, new figures show

Caitlin Logan

Foodbank charity calls for inquiry into universal credit administration and an increase in benefits in line with inflation

FOODBANK USE in Scotland has reached a record high and insufficient income from benefits is the leading cause, according to new figures from charity The Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust distributed 170,062 three-day emergency food supplies to people in Scotland in 2017-18. This marks a 17 per cent increase on the previous year, which was up by nine per cent from the year before, and is higher than the UK average which increased by 13 per cent this year.

This, the charity has said, has been driven by the fact that benefit levels are not covering the cost of living. 28 per cent of referrals gave this reason, compared with 22 per cent the previous year, making this the single biggest and fastest growing reason for foodbank use.

Foodbanks in areas where full Universal Credit rollout has been underway for a year or more have seen an average increase in use of 52 per cent.

Tony Graham, director of Scotland at The Trussell Trust commented: “In Scotland we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.”

The other leading referral reasons were benefit delays, at 22 per cent, and benefit changes, at 18 per cent. The organisation’s analysis found that foodbanks in areas where full Universal Credit rollout has been underway for a year or more have seen an average increase in use of 52 per cent, compared to 13 per cent in areas which are either not in full Universal Credit areas, or have only been full rollout areas for three months.

The charity, which runs a UK-wide network of foodbanks, is calling for benefit levels to be increased in line with inflation, for local authorities to be required to deliver a “true Universal Support service” to everyone who starts a Universal Credit claim, and for an inquiry into the administration of Universal Credit.

Graham said: “Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right and ensure levels of payment protect everyone needing its support, particularly groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.

“Foodbanks are providing absolutely vital, compassionate support in communities across our country, but no charity can replace the dignity of having long-term financial security.

Only eight per cent of claimants accessing foodbanks said their Universal Credit award covered their cost of living.

“We’ll continue to campaign for systemic change until everyone has enough money coming in to keep pace with the rising cost of essentials like food and housing.”

Referrals as a result of debt also increased, at eight per cent of all referrals, up from seven per cent in the previous year, with essential housing costs and utility bills a major cause of this debt.

The annual figures have been released alongside a report, ‘Left Behind: Is Universal Credit Truly Universal?’, in which The Trussell Trust highlights findings of a survey of Universal Credit claimants referred to foodbanks. Only eight per cent said their Universal Credit award covered their cost of living, which dropped to five per cent for those with a disability or ill-health.

Over a third said they had waited longer than six weeks for their first payment, and 30 per cent had received an underpayment. The waiting period before the first payment was found to have serious consequences – 70 per cent said they ended up in debt, 56 per cent faced housing issues, and 57 per cent experienced physical or mental health issues.

Responding to the figures, A Menu for Change – a project seeking to address food poverty managed by Oxfam Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group Scotland and Nourish Scotland – have said the UK Government should half the rollout of Universal Credit.

70 per cent of Universal Credit claimants accessing foodbanks said the wait before the first payment pushed them into debt. 

“The disastrous roll out of Universal Credit has plunged people across Scotland further into poverty and left them at the mercy of food banks and cash strapped local councils,” said Polly Jones, project manager for A Menu for Change.

“People we’ve spoken to who are claiming Universal Credit have been met with a myriad of bureaucratic delays and administrative errors which has resulted in them waiting in some cases over two months, before they have money to buy basic essentials like food.  

“Food banks should not be left to pick up the pieces of a failing safety net. We need to fix the safety net. It’s clear the UK Government should halt the rollout of Universal Credit until fundamental flaws in the system are addressed.”

Jones added that the Scottish Government should “do everything it can to alleviate the misery” faced by claimants in Scotland, by “maximising the uptake of the flexibilities being applied to Universal Credit in Scotland, committing enough resources for councils to administer the Scottish Welfare Fund and investing in advice and support services”.

Picture courtesy of Staffs Live

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