Our nation faces a crucial fork in the road – we must choose the right path 

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Garry Lemon, director of policy and external affairs  

Our nation is at a crossroads.

The government has responded to coronavirus with unprecedented measures to support workers, businesses and self-employed people. But the stark reality many of us now face is laid bare in today’s unemployment figures, with hundreds of thousands of people falling off payrolls since March and the largest decreases in the number of self -employed ever recorded.

With the jobs retentions scheme and the self-employed income support scheme set to wind down over the coming months, there is real concern that this is just the start of a tidal wave which will sweep people into poverty and financial hardship.

What decision will we make? We can either choose to build the biggest and best lifeboats to sail people to financial safety – or risk many more people being swept into destitution if we do not invest enough to keep everyone afloat. 

At the Trussell Trust we know how high the stakes are. Food banks across the UK have just reported their busiest month ever. Our volunteers are telling us many people are coming for the first time.  The number of families with children needing emergency food has doubled, compared to this time last year.

This simply isn’t right. But there are things the government can do to protect people from needing a food bank as the economic downturn unfolds. That‘s why we’re working with  a coalition of anti-poverty charities to call for a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme to ensure we all have enough money coming in to weather the storm.

There are already signs the government is open to making the changes that are needed. 

Our coalition has been calling for a boost to the emergency schemes run by local councils in England, to ensure they can get cash grants into the pockets of people facing financial crisis. When run well, these schemes get money to people quickly and can reduce the likelihood that people will become homeless or need to turn to a food bank.

Last week the Prime Minister announced a new £63 million fund for these schemes in England to help people struggling to afford food and other essentials due to coronavirus.

It is heartening that the government has listened to and acted on the calls of charities and campaigners. We’ll be working with government officials to try and ensure this money is administered properly – read more about how in this blog

But we still have a long way to go to ensure everyone makes it to safety.

We urgently need funding to support the roll out of the rest of the emergency response proposed by our coalition to ensure everyone has enough money in their pockets for essentials during this crisis.

We know that for too many people, benefit payments do not adequately cover the cost of living, with research showing households referred to food banks being left with just £50 per week after housing costs. That was before this surge in unemployment – a surge forecasters say is likely to get worse as our economic downturn takes grip.

That’s why we must:

  • Increase benefits that go to families to help with the costs of raising children
  • Extend the suspension of benefit deductions to include advance payments – the loans offered to cover the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment
  • Lift the benefit cap to ensure this support scheme benefits everyone

Our nation faces a crucial fork in the road.

We must choose the right path. The path that builds on the foundations our government has laid and buoys up the many people already struggling to keep their heads above water, as well as people pushed into poverty for the first time.

We’ve already seen what can be done to put support in place for people –  we have the power to do this if we stand together.