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What does this week’s announcement on Universal Credit mean?

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

On Monday afternoon the Government published an update to its plans for the next stage of Universal Credit, ‘managed migration’.

Until now, only people making a new application have gone onto the new benefits system. This next stage will see people already receiving a benefits or tax credits payment under the old system move onto Universal Credit.

At The Trussell Trust, we’ve been watching the development of these plans closely. As a nation we created systems like our national health service, fire service and benefits system because we’re a country that believes in protecting each other – but we’ve seen more and more people needing foodbanks in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out.

We’ve been sharing evidence gathered by foodbank volunteers to highlight the things that need to change, and asking the Government to learn lessons from the roll out of Universal Credit so far in three ways:

  1. Take responsibility for moving people onto Universal Credit and make sure no one has a gap in their income if they’re already supported by the old benefit system
  2. Provide the right support for people on Universal Credit, so everyone is comfortable managing their claim digitally, has support with managing their finances if they need it and is offered payment flexibilities
  3. Publish a schedule for the next stage of Universal Credit, ensuring there are opportunities to review the process and make changes whilst it is underway if they are needed

So how do Monday’s announcements measure against these?

The updated plans show the Department for Work & Pensions is listening. Easing the rules around when you need to make a claim and when you can backdate late claims are positive steps. Together with the move in last week’s Budget to allow an extra two weeks of DWP payments from July 2020, these measures should help to reduce the risk of people losing out on vital income in the next stage of Universal Credit.

But there is much more to be done.

The government is still pushing the responsibility of this next stage onto claimants. People will need to make a new claim and therefore still risk losing their income. Without attempting to automate any part of the transfer process, the Government cannot claim this next stage of migration to the new system is ‘managed’ at all.

There’s also no information about whether the right support will be in place – this will be vital to ensure people aren’t left without money. The Government has pushed back the timeline for managed migration, to allow a ‘test and learn’ phase next year. This must lead to genuine safeguards and support, and we will continue to make sure the voices of people who have used foodbanks and volunteer in them inform the Government’s plans.

And finally, we must not forget that before the next stage of Universal Credit begins, thousands of people will be making new Universal Credit claims.

None of the changes announced in the last two weeks will be in place for people this winter – most won’t be seen for at least 18 months. Monday’s announcement won’t help people like Ruth, who spoke to the BBC this week about being forced to turn to a foodbank during the wait for a first Universal Credit payment. She needed our benefits system to anchor her from being swept into poverty after she was made redundant, but the gap in income left her struggling to cover the costs of essentials for her young family and she had to use a foodbank.

As a priority, we’re worried about  the problems people at foodbanks are experiencing with moving onto Universal Credit. If the wait isn’t reduced for all people making new claims, the only way to stop even more people like Ruth being forced to foodbanks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until the necessary funding is in place. Reducing the five-week wait won’t fix everything, but it would make a real difference in protecting people from crisis.

Foodbanks cannot continue to pick up the pieces. We have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger. Recent announcements are welcome, but only a start. Much more must still be done to ensure Universal Credit is preventing people from needing a foodbank, not pushing them to one.

 

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Help us make Universal Credit work for everyone

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

Universal Credit is the biggest change to the welfare system in a generation and here at The Trussell Trust, we’ve been working hard with foodbanks in our network to monitor it. Our research has found that the system is leaving people behind – disabled people, families, and other vulnerable groups – and can push people into debt. Analysing data from foodbanks in our network, we’ve found that foodbanks in full Universal Credit rollout for 12 months or more have seen a 52% increase in need, compared to 13% elsewhere.

This is unacceptable. We need change now. You can help make this change.

The Trussell Trust has been working with End Hunger UK, since its inception in 2016, to tackle the root causes of hunger and lobby for policy and structural changes from government. End Hunger UK is built on a vision of a society where everyone has access to good food, and no one must go to bed hungry.

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Why the Government’s announcement on disability benefits means fewer people will need foodbanks

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Abby Jitendra, Policy and Research Manager

Every week foodbanks in our network meet people with health conditions or disabilities who, without emergency help from the local community, would have faced going hungry. Just as we all expect to be able to access free healthcare anywhere in the UK, we would expect that if you are struggling to get by because of a health condition, sufficient financial support would be available. But poor administration and continued reductions in disabled people’s benefit payments mean the welfare safety net, which should be freeing people from the restraints of poverty, is locking people in.

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What’s in a Trussell Trust foodbank parcel and why?

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Samantha Stapley, Director of Operations:

Foodbanks in our network use standard packing lists for each emergency food parcel that goes to someone in crisis. This is to ensure a balanced supply of food, whatever the household size, is provided to everyone referred – you can see an example of a list for a single person below.

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‘You can’t live on thin air’: the wait for Universal Support

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Abby Jitendra, Senior Policy Officer at The Trussell Trust

 

‘I am sick, disabled, and visually impaired, hard of hearing. No help has been offered. I had to go ask my local church for help.’

The impact of Universal Credit on society in the UK is only just beginning to be felt. By 2022, all existing eligible claimants – 12 million people – still on the legacy benefits system will have been migrated to the new system. Universal Credit is, by design, a departure from the legacy benefits system, and the transition has already had wide-ranging effects on claimants, statutory bodies, and voluntary organisations.

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Yes, Universal Credit should make work pay – but the benefits system must protect us all from hunger

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Garry Lemon, Head of External Affairs at The Trussell Trust:

Since its inception we have supported – and still support – the key principles of Universal Credit. We agree that a simplified benefits system that is easier to navigate would help millions of people across the UK. We agree that work should always pay for those supported by this new benefit.

But there is a third principle that must underpin our entire welfare state: it must provide enough money for those who need it to afford the basics – at the very least, food and shelter. As a nation, we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute. Illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job can happen to any of us. We owe it to ourselves to ensure sufficient financial support is there when we need it most.

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We smile, offer a cuppa and have a wee chat: what’s it actually like inside a foodbank?

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If you’ve caught any news over the past few years, you’ve probably heard a fair bit about the rise in foodbank use.

But it’s hard to imagine what a foodbank is actually like if you’ve never been inside one.

I run Hamilton District Foodbank. We work across Hamilton and Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, and have been giving emergency food to people referred to us since 2013 – in 2016-17 we provided 4,015 food supplies to local people. But like so many other foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, we offer a lot more than emergency food.

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As the cold weather bites, how do we ensure everyone has enough money for fuel?

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“I am constantly writing letters and making phone calls to see what help or advice I can get. I am at breaking point, as each day there is something else to contend with. I feel helpless, mentally exhausted and so low. I really don’t know what I am going to do. I cannot get by month to month. It’s hard enough doing it week to week on a low income. I can’t afford to use my heating, even though it is so cold and my son suffers with his chest and lungs. No doubt he will end up in hospital during this cold period.”

This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, we want to want to raise awareness not only of fuel poverty, but also the responses, both amongst local communities and through policy, that can stem the tide.

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Putting food on the table: the human right to eat in the fifth richest country in the world

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As a society, we believe in justice and compassion. That, as we grow up, we should have the same chance to get on and succeed in life – whether we’re from the Cheshire countryside, or the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent.

For most of us, this starts with having enough to eat, proper clothing, and a safe place to call home. But what happens when we can’t put enough food on the table? Who can – and should – step in to help?

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Why working with Asda & FareShare will help bring us closer to ending the need for foodbanks

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It’s simply not acceptable that so many people in the UK face hunger, and we won’t sit by whilst increasing numbers of people are expected to hit crisis and need a foodbank’s help.

We’re committed to creating long term change, challenging the structural issues that lock people into poverty and seeing an end to the need for foodbanks. Whilst we work on this, we’re also committed to ensuring everyone referred to a foodbank in our network receives the best possible support.

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