A blog post by
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.
- 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.
- 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?