A blog post by
Operations Manager at the Edinburgh Food Project
We opened our doors at the Edinburgh Food Project six years ago and since then, we have seen the number of emergency food parcels handed out to people in crisis drastically increase. Much like the Trussell Trust’s figures, each year is worse than the last.
From families with children to people with disabilities, more and more people across Scotland are being forced into needless poverty through no fault of their own.
Our benefits system should be caring, compassionate and supportive, offering people that much-needed hand up out of tough times. But currently, the very system that should offer any of us financial support when we need it most, is allowing people to fall through the cracks.
One of the common things we’re seeing lately is people being referred to us while waiting five-weeks wait for Universal Credit. As a food bank manager, it never fails to amaze me when I explain to people that anyone applying for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for their first payment. The most common reaction is ‘how can anyone survive without any money for that long?’
Dave* needed our food bank while waiting for his first Universal Credit payment to come through. He’d been working in restaurant kitchens for the last 25 years but problems with his knee were leaving him struggling to walk, so he was signed off work by a doctor and had to turn to Universal Credit for support. Although he followed the government’s advice and took out an ‘advance payment’ to bridge the wait, the money had to be paid immediately towards his rent to avoid eviction, leaving him without enough funds for anything else.
Situations like this are entirely preventable.
Like Dave, many other people have had to take out an advance payment from the Government to cope with the wait on Universal Credit but this is a loan. And like any loan, it has to be paid back, often at rates which people with such little money coming in can’t afford. Advance payments aren’t the solution – they’re a sticking plaster at best.
No two people who walk through the door of a food bank are the same. People could be working or on benefits for a range of reasons. But there’s always one similarity: the desperation of people trapped in poverty, left with no options because the cost of living has moved so far beyond what their benefits, minimum wage and zero-hours contracts can cover.
And the five-week wait has only exacerbated this further.
We try our hardest to signpost people to long-term support with other agencies but we need a minimum wage that covers the essentials and a workforce that is reliable and secure.
If the department’s latest PR campaign is to try and encourage people to claim Universal Credit then they aren’t going about it in the right way. Too much damage has been done in recent years to our welfare system and this nine-week campaign in the Metro isn’t going to fix the things we need our Government to fix.
We’re firefighting increasing levels of poverty at our food bank, but we can’t continue to pick up the pieces. The time to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit is now.