Posts in '2019'

Caught between a rock and a hard place: why advance payments are not the solution to the five week wait

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A blog post by
Abby Jitendra
Policy & Research Manager


 

Unaffordable DWP loans are not the answer to the five week wait

Would you be able to go five weeks without any money?

When you apply for Universal Credit, that’s the minimum amount of time you have to wait for your first payment.

We put out our year-end food bank figures last week showing that a record 1.6 million food parcels had been given out by our network last year, a 19% increase on the year before. Universal Credit now accounts for half of all referrals to food banks due to benefits delays, and waiting for Universal Credit is a growing trigger forcing people to food banks.

While you wait, you can apply for an ‘advance payment’ – that’s a loan from the Government to see you through that five week period. Once your Universal Credit payments start, you pay that loan back automatically through deductions from your monthly payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) tell us that these repayments are affordable, but we know that’s not true – food banks and the people they support tell us they can leave people stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here’s why:

 

  1. Repayments don’t take into account people’s ability to afford them

It seems like common sense to assess whether you have enough coming in to pay your loan back. In the private sector, it’s best practice for debt collectors to do an income assessment of the person and then set repayments at a level that won’t push people into hardship.

But that’s not how advance payments work – deduction levels are set by the DWP and don’t take into account your ability to pay them, or whether you’ll fall into financial hardship while doing so. In some cases, you can have your repayment levels renegotiated, but this is rare – and by that point, you’re likely already in arrears.

The Government prevents the lending industry pushing people into financial hardship when repaying debts – so why is it allowed to get away with it?

 

  1. Even small deductions can have a big impact on people living on a financial knife-edge

Deductions are capped at 40% of your Universal Credit standard amount, and the DWP says most people don’t pay this much.

But even relatively small deductions to people’s living costs can lock people into poverty. We know people on Universal Credit might not have enough to cover even basic essentials like food, because of cuts to the system and the freeze on working-age benefits.

The debt advice and management charity StepChange found that 71% of the people they support have experienced hardship because of deductions, and a quarter of those with deductions had to spend less on food to get by. They found that even a deduction of just 5% can push people deeper into financial hardship.

 

  1. You could be hit by multiple repayments, including ones you didn’t know you had

It’s hard to budget for paying back arrears – particularly if, like many people in financial hardship, you have multiple debts you need to repay.

An advance isn’t necessarily the only thing you’d be repaying through an automatic deduction – you could be paying back a third party debt for energy bills or council tax. Depending on the level of your debts, these additional repayments could tip you above the 40% cap set by the DWP.

The Government is also using the move to Universal Credit to recover historic debts, so people are finding themselves hit by surprise repayments for debts they didn’t know they had.

 

  1. It’s not just claimants themselves who feel the effects of advance payment repayments

When people can’t pay their rent because their repayments don’t leave them enough to cover it, they fall into rent arrears which affect housing associations and private landlords. Local Authorities, like Southwark Council and Newcastle Council have said that the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is a strain on their finances as their crisis funds are running out.

And we know food banks have seen higher increases in demand in areas where Universal Credit has rolled out.

 

So what’s the solution?

In the short term, the DWP should make advance payments into grants. At the very least, this could be targeted at people who need it most – those with inescapable higher living costs such as disabled people or people who might struggle to access support.

This would help prevent some of the millions of people who will be moving onto Universal Credit from facing debt, deductions, and hardship down the line. But it won’t solve the root problem. Universal Credit should be protecting people from poverty, not pushing them into it – that’s why we need a longer term solution, one that deals with the fact that most people can’t last five weeks without money coming in.

A true solution would be to make the wait for a first payment shorter so people don’t have a significant gap between applying for Universal Credit and being paid.

The Government needs to end the five week wait now.

Join the #5WeeksTooLong campaign and help make that happen or find out more on our website.

The figures in the video are based on estimates of the kinds of deductions we know people in arrears on Universal Credit might face. Single adults over 25 on Universal Credit receive a standard allowance of £317.82 from which deductions are taken, and many people face multiple deductions reducing the amount of money they have coming in. Deductions are capped at 40% of this allowance but this can be breached if the Department or creditors deem certain arrears are urgent to collect.

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Record 1.6m food bank parcels given to people in past year as the Trussell Trust calls for end to Universal Credit five week wait

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Number of food parcels given out across UK soars 73% in five years*

New data released today shows April 2018 to March 2019 to be the busiest year for food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network since the charity opened. During the past year, 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis in the UK; More than half a million of these (577,618) went to children. This is an 18.8% increase on the previous year.

The main reasons for people needing emergency food are benefits consistently not covering the cost of living (33%), and delays or changes to benefits being paid.**

Universal Credit is not the only benefit payment people referred to food banks have experienced problems with, but issues with moving onto the new system are a key driver of increasing need. Almost half (49%) of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid in UK were linked to Universal Credit.***

From this data, and other insights from food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network, the charity believes ending the five week for a first Universal Credit payment should be the Government’s first priority to help create a future without food banks.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said:

“What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.

“Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed – that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently the five week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics. As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.  

“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security. That’s why in the long-term, we’re urging the Government to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty.”

Shirley, who had to use a food bank herself and now volunteers for food bank in the Trussell Trust, said:

“No one should need to ever use a food bank but sometimes things happen to people that are completely out of their control like an illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job.

 “I was thrown into an unknown world. I didn’t have any money for three months while waiting for Universal Credit. I couldn’t pay my rent and I had to work out whether to eat in the morning or the afternoon because I didn’t have enough money for the basics.

“The food bank got me back on my feet and offered me hope that things would get better. I’m a great believer in giving back and that’s why I volunteer my time at Southwark Foodbank. People shouldn’t feel embarrassed if they’re forced to use a food bank – they are there to help you.”

Ends

Contact:

Contact The Trussell Trust Press Office at 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org

Notes to Editor:

The Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign is calling for an end to the 5+ week wait for Universal Credit.

The Trussell Trust’s statistics:

  • ‘Emergency food parcel’: three days’ emergency food for one person. These statistics are a measure of volume rather than unique individuals. Recent analysis shows on average people need around two food bank referrals in a year. More information about the way this data is gathered and what it can and can’t show here.
  • Between 1st April 2018 and 31st March 2019, food banks in The Trussell Trust’s network provided 1,583,668 emergency supplies to people in crisis. 577,618 of these supplies went to children.
  • This is an 18.8% increase on the previous year, when 1,332,952 emergency supplies went to people in crisis; 484,026 of these went to children.
  • Trussell Trust figures cannot be used to fully explain the scale of food bank use across the UK, because figures relate to food banks in the network and not to the hundreds of independent food banks. There are more than 1,200 food bank centres in the Trussell Trust’s network across the UK – research from the Independent Food Aid Network shows there are at least 805 independent food banks, so the Trussell Trust network accounts for roughly two-thirds of all emergency food banks.
  • The Independent Food Aid Network and A Menu for Change recently published data on the number of emergency food parcels distributed by independent food banks in Scotland which almost doubles the scale shown by figures from the Trussell Trust network – more detail here.

* Number of food bank supplies increased by 73.4% in five years in UK:

2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
 
UK TOTAL for food parcels distributed:    913,138    1,084,604    1,109,309    1,182,954    1,332,952    1,583,668
% increase on previous year 18.8% 2.3% 6.6% 12.7% 18.8%

**Main reasons for referral between April 2018 – March 2019:

  • 33.1% due to low income; our electronic referral data suggests over 80% of these referrals were for people receiving benefits and not earning
  • 20.3% due to delays in benefits being paid
  • 17.3% due to changes in benefits

***The Trussell Trust can analyse detailed information about the type of benefit payments people at food banks experience using data gathered from electronic food bank referrals. Electronic referrals are completed by referral agencies in the same way as traditional paper vouchers, and can collect more information about the reason behind the referral.

Additional information about the type of electronic referral due to a ‘benefit delay’ includes waiting for a first payment, waiting for a new claim to be awarded and interrupted payments. Between April 2018 and March 2019, 49% of electronic food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid were linked to Universal Credit.

About The Trussell Trust:

  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that supports a network of more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK.
  • It takes more than food to end hunger. The Trussell Trust therefore does three things: supports its network to provide emergency food to people referred; helps food banks to provide on-site additional help or signpost people to relevant local charities to resolve the cause of  referral; and brings together the experiences of hundreds of communities on the front line to challenge the structural issues that lock people in poverty, and campaign for long-term change so we can see a future without the need for food banks.
  • Read more at trusselltrust.org
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Stem the rising tide in food bank referrals – end the five week wait

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A blog post by
Ellie Thompson
Policy & Research Co-ordinator

The benefits system was designed to act as a safety net, providing support for any of us if we need it. But the Government’s new welfare reform, Universal Credit, pulls people into poverty, rather than helping them out of it.

In areas where Universal Credit has gone live for a year or more, food banks have seen a 52% average increase in food bank use compared to 13% in areas that have not. Increasingly we are seeing Universal Credit payment delays as a key driver of food bank referrals. Even Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, acknowledges that the delay in Universal Credit payments has led to a rise in referrals to food banks.

The five week wait that all claimants face for their first Universal Credit payment is not due to one-off errors or slow administration; this is the Government’s intended design. And it means people can be pulled into poverty and debt at the moment when they need help the most. That’s why we’re campaigning to end the five week wait.

As part of the campaign we’ve been gathering stories of people affected by the five week wait to better understand what it has meant for them.

We’re hearing from people with additional needs finding the wait particularly difficult: disabled people who have been told they are ‘fit to work’ following a recent assessment, people on insecure and temporary work contracts who just recently lost their job, and people who are experiencing a relationship breakdown.

Here’s the story of one person we spoke to:

Meet Sarah*

Sarah is a self-employed mum of two teenagers, who both live at home. A few months ago, Sarah was diagnosed with an acute form of cancer which led to her needing urgent treatment, and requiring her to spend extensive time in hospital. As Sarah cannot work, her family’s income has suddenly dropped.

The wait for the first Universal Credit payment

Sarah made a claim for Universal Credit from hospital (using a paper form). During the wait for her first payment, her family started building up debts, and had no money to buy food. Sarah called the food bank directly because her family, already coping with an extremely stressful situation, were struggling to cover the costs of essentials and were not receiving support elsewhere. She told us:

I was unable to provide money for my daughter to go food shopping, meaning that my family were not having sufficient meals. They were already affected with coming to terms with my illness and then we had money worries to add to the stress.

Not getting the support needed

Sarah hasn’t been able to get to the Jobcentre in person and has not been offered additional support from Jobcentre Plus. Her Universal Credit case worker from the Jobcentre said that because she is self-employed, she cannot apply for an Advance Payment – an interest-free loan DWP offers to help during the first payment wait, which needs to be repaid. She was also not offered any budgeting support supposedly available to claimants, despite clear signs she was struggling.

The experience of poverty, accruing debts, and the uncertainty around what will be received and when, has caused Sarah and her family untold stress and anxiety, at an already difficult time.

I now receive £73.00 per week and this is meant to cover council tax, electricity, food, gas, fuel, and parking costs when visiting me in hospital. If it wasn’t for the help from the food bank I wouldn’t like to think about the situation me and my family would be in.

And Sarah is not alone; Sarah is just one of many people telling us of the difficulties faced coping without an income for five weeks.

Crucially, the stories being shared with us show that the Government’s existing support isn’t enough. Even those who had received an Advance Payment said after paying off rent arrears they had nothing left to live on during the five week wait. Others told us repayments were too high and deductions didn’t leave enough to live on.

1.6 million people are estimated to move to Universal Credit this year alone. We don’t want anyone else to have to repeat Sarah’s experience.

That’s why we’re calling for the Government to end the wait for the first payment, because it’s #5WeeksTooLong.

We need your help in joining us to call for change. Join the campaign here.

 

* name changed to protect identity

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The Trussell Trust responds to the Spring Statement

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Responding to today’s Spring Statement from the Chancellor, the Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie says,

“We’re disappointed by today’s Spring Statement, which does not end austerity as promised. The Chancellor has missed a real opportunity to do the right thing and give people on the lowest incomes financial support and certainty before Brexit.

“Our benefits system was created to make sure proper support would be in place for each other when help was most needed. But right now, more and more people across Britain are struggling to make ends meet, unable to afford food and facing hunger as a result. This isn’t right.

“We have seen a record demand in food bank use – our network gave out 1.3 million three-day parcels in the last year, a 13% increase in need. The key driver for this rise was incomes not covering the cost of essentials – and the majority of these incomes came through benefits.

“By failing to end the benefits freeze and five week wait for Universal Credit, thousands more people will become trapped in poverty and may be forced to a food bank as a result.

“The Government needs to put money back into the pockets of people who have lost the most to austerity. Ending poverty and hunger in the UK shouldn’t be sidelined – the time to act is now.”

Ends

Contact: The Trussell Trust press office on 020 3137 3699.

 

Notes to Editor:

The Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign is calling for an end to the 5+ week wait for Universal Credit.

Information about Universal Credit and foodbank use is available here.

 

About The Trussell Trust:

  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that supports a network of more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK.
  • In 2017-2018, 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies were provided to people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network, a 13% increase on the previous year. Over a third of supplies (484,026) went to children.
  • It takes more than food to end hunger. The Trussell Trust therefore does three things: supports its network to provide emergency food to people referred; helps food banks to provide on-site additional help or signpost people to relevant local charities to resolve the cause of  referral; and brings together the experiences of hundreds of communities on the front line to challenge the structural issues that lock people in poverty, and campaign for long-term change so we can see a future without the need for food banks.
  • Read more at trusselltrust.org
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Next week the Chancellor has the opportunity to reduce food bank use – will he take it?

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A blog post by
Abby Jitendra
Policy & Research Manager

 

Last year, the Prime Minister told the nation that austerity was over. But food banks, and the growing number of people who need them, will need convincing.

So far, the Government’s attempts at protecting people in poverty have been piecemeal. Rather than bold action to end austerity, the last Budget made some cash available for some very low paid working households on Universal Credit, but still left millions worse off.

This support won’t go far enough to reduce the record demand food banks have seen – our network gave out 1.3 million three-day parcels, a 13% increase in need, in the last financial year.

And yesterday, the Office for National Statistics reported that the average incomes of the poorest fell over 2018, while the average incomes of the richest rose. They singled out austerity as the main cause of this rising inequality.

We created our benefits system to help people trapped in poverty, but without enough funding to get people back on their feet, the current system locks people in.

 

What do we need from the Spring Statement?

The Chancellor has played down the impact of the upcoming Spring Statement, calling it a ‘holding statement’.

But it’s easy to see why we are hoping for better news. It’s the Government’s last chance before Brexit to offer support and certainty for people on the lowest incomes. And it’s a chance to show real intent to end austerity as promised.

 

These are two important changes we’ll be asking for. 

 

  1. An end to the benefits freeze

We are entering the fourth year of working-age benefits being frozen at the level they were at in 2016.

This time last year we found that the key driver for the rise in need for food banks was that incomes were not covering the cost of essentials – and the majority of these incomes were through benefits. That’s also when we saw food prices increase, just as payments were stagnating – meaning a family was spending more to eat less.

A year on, we know that 200,000 people have already been pushed into poverty by the freeze so far. Families with children, particularly single parent families, are disproportionately affected – these are also the groups most likely to need a food bank’s help.

We, along with other charities and MPs across the political spectrum, are calling for the freeze to be ended before it causes more harm.

 

  1. An end to the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment:

We know that the five week wait can push people into needing a food bank’s help. People on the frontline have been telling us since the policy was rolled out.

One mum responding to our survey on the experiences of claimants described the impact of the wait on her and her family:

‘I have fallen into debt, juggling a lot [with] my three children. My anxiety and depression have returned, well never really went away, but I feel like it’s gotten a lot worse. [I] can’t breathe with worry, very little money left, sometimes going hungry…’

We know that the Department’s offer of a loan during this wait simply doesn’t go far enough and repayments can push people into financial difficulties – effectively leaving a choice of hardship now or hardship later.

Since we launched our campaign #5WeeksTooLong, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from food bank managers and volunteers, people who have been affected by the wait, and the public, all calling for it to end.

 

Will the Chancellor listen?

On Tuesday, the Treasury Minister told us that the Government was listening to the sector. The Department for Work and Pensions has told us they too are in ‘listening mode’.

An end to both the benefits freeze and the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment would put money back into the pockets of those who have lost the most from austerity – and mean everyone sees the ‘better days’ the Prime Minister promised back in October.

The people on the frontline have spoken. Will the Chancellor listen?

 

Join the Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong Universal Credit campaign now.

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MPs from all sides spoke up on the five week wait for Universal Credit – will the Govt now act?

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

Last week, MPs debated how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spends our money, ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement on 13 March. In just a few days, over a thousand #5WeeksTooLong campaigners emailed their MP asking them to speak up on the five week wait for Universal Credit.

MPs from across the political spectrum did just that and there were some glimmers of hope in the government minister’s response. It was a wide ranging debate but reading through the speeches of the MPs that spoke I noticed three key themes around the five week wait:

  1. Our benefits system should be fighting poverty

“We must never forget that, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, providing security and dignity in retirement and the support needed should we become sick or disabled or fall on hard times. It is a vital weapon in our fight against poverty and inequality—and one of which we should be proud, not ashamed.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour

“The DWP should exist to help families break free from poverty, to support people into work who are able to work and to provide security in old age.”

Christine Jardine MP, Liberal Democrat

 

  1. People are struggling with the five week wait and advance payments are not the answer

“I want to mention one of my constituents… who has said:

“I volunteer with a food bank. I am also a Methodist minister who has had to find benevolent funds to pay for gas and electricity while people wait five weeks for their first payment. We cannot expect people to live like that.”

Liz Twist MP, Labour

“57% of new Universal Credit claimants are taking an advance. The proportion of those applying for Universal Credit who have a month’s savings, as the policy assumes, is less than half. Most applicants have to go into debt to the DWP and take an advance to stay afloat in the first five weeks. Having been forced into debt in that way by the Department, far too many people find it impossible to get out of it. That is why we have seen the big increase in demand for food banks.”

Stephen Timms MP, Labour

“If there is an acceptance that people need an advance, why say that the money needs to be paid back? People cannot be expected to live off fresh air, and they should not be expected to prolong indebtedness or financial hardship”

Neil Gray MP, Shadow SNP Spokesperson

 

  1. The DWP can change the system but the Treasury needs to give them the money

“With the greatest respect, Universal Credit is not built to deal with people who have no financial resilience at all. They are the people that we are talking about, and these cuts have absolutely cut them to the bone.”

Heidi Allen MP, Independent

“There is also a growing campaign, as we have heard again today, for the Government to do more on the five-week wait for Universal Credit… I know [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP] is pleading with the Treasury for the resources to go further, and we hope we can hear of that at the Spring Statement.”

Neil Gray MP, Shadow SNP Spokesperson

“I would certainly like the additional surplus that this excellent Chancellor has created to go towards hopefully ending the benefit freeze as soon as possible, allowing investment in universal support, and reducing further the waiting times [for Universal Credit].”

Alex Burghart MP, Conservative

 

The Government minister’s response

DWP minister Justin Tomlinson MP, responded by saying the Government is “continuing to listen to these debates to make further improvements”. We won’t be getting carried away just yet.

We need ministers to turn words into action and end the five week wait. Whether it’s announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement next week or (more likely) the Spending Review later in the year, you can help make that happen.

Join the #5WeeksTooLong campaign now  or find out more on our website.

 

 

 

 

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One year of Fight Hunger Create Change

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Food banks receive almost £2 million in grants to provide more support to people locked in poverty

More than 90 food banks in our network have been awarded grants to provide more support to people in crisis, as our partnership with FareShare and Asda Fight Hunger Create Change marks its first anniversary

As we continue working with FareShare and Asda to tackle the root causes of poverty in the UK, this new grant funding from the Fight Hunger Create Change partnership will allow food banks in our network to provide even more vital services to people at the point of crisis. From supplying emergency food parcels to providing on-site debt and money advice, the grants will allow the food banks to hire specialist advisers, create additional storage space and increase work to tackle the root causes of poverty in the UK. (more…)

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Five weeks is too long to wait for Universal Credit – join the campaign

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other when help is most needed – that’s why we created our fire service, our health service, and our benefits system.

But Universal Credit – our new benefits system – isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised.

In 2018, our research showed a 52% average increase in food bank use in areas that have had Universal Credit for at least 12 months compared to 13% in areas that have not.

The five week wait is too long

From the very start, everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – and some people wait longer.

This is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.

There are other problems with Universal Credit, but the five week wait is one of the key reasons why we’ve seen a rise in people needing food banks where it has been rolled out.

The government knows the wait is too long

“I don’t want people to have to go to food banks.”

That’s one of the first things Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said when asked about the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment.

That’s why the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offers ‘Advance Payments’ to those struggling with the wait. But, because these have to be repaid, they leave people between a rock and a hard place: no money now or not enough money later?

And it’s why from July 2020 some benefits under the old system will carry on being paid for two weeks when you transfer over to Universal Credit. But this still leaves a three week gap and, in the meantime, 1.6 million people are expected to move onto the new system without this support.

So people may still be forced to food banks as a result. This is not right.

#5WeeksTooLong

The government needs to end the five week wait – you can help make that happen by joining the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

We’re asking everyone who thinks five weeks is too long to join together with food banks, charities, faith and community groups, so we can show how damaging the wait is and demand change from Amber Rudd and her colleagues in government.

Sign up now to join the campaign or find out more on our website .

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What do the government’s plans for Universal Credit actually mean?

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A blog post by
Garry Lemon
Director of Policy, External Affairs & Research

This month, the Department for Work & Pensions provided more information about the changes they’re making to the next stage of Universal Credit. But what do these plans actually mean, and will they make a difference to people teetering on the edge?

Until now, only people making a new application have needed to apply for Universal Credit. The next stage, ‘managed migration’, is to move people still receiving help from the old benefits system onto the new one.

Universal Credit should be fighting poverty, not forcing people to food banks. But when we first saw the initial plans for this next stage last summer, we were worried that they would result in many more people needing food banks.

The government expected 3 million people to make a brand new claim for Universal Credit after getting a letter telling them to apply. The plans didn’t specify what support would be available, or if there would be any help for people who needed it (you can read more here). (more…)

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The Trussell Trust responds to information about next stage of Universal Credit

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Last year, the Trussell Trust’s food bank network campaigned for critical changes to the next stage of Universal Credit to prevent more people needing food banks as a result of moving over from the old benefits system.

The Work and Pensions Committee has published a letter from the Secretary of State for the Department for Work & Pensions, Amber Rudd, responding to Frank Field with information about the next stage of Universal Credit and confirming the plans laid out by the department earlier this month. (more…)

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