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The 2021 elections are a vital opportunity

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By Rory Weal, Policy & Public Affairs Manager

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,’ so they say. Beyond the immediate heartache and suffering caused by the pandemic, it’s also been a year filled with missed family visits, cancelled holidays, and all manner of plans left in tatters.

In these circumstances, you might be forgiven for missing that several important elections were also postponed last year and will now be taking place on 6 May 2021.

These elections matter – their outcomes will help to determine how we build a better future as we look to recover from the pandemic. Crucially, they could help provide a turning point to build a future where we can end the need for food banks.

The stakes are high, and they impact so many of us in different ways. All in all, about 48 million people will be able to vote to elect almost 5,000 to positions of power across Great Britain on 6 May.

The bumper crop of elections taking place on this day include those for the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd in Wales, hugely important elections which will determine the next governments for the two nations for the next four years, with responsibilities covering the likes of health, housing, and education. These are joined by the delayed elections for local authorities across England, as well as for mayors in cities such as London and Greater Manchester.

These elections will have huge consequences for how we all live our lives, and for the services and financial support available for people on the lowest incomes. What’s more, they offer a vital opportunity to win support for measures which will end the need for food banks, and create a society where everyone can afford the essentials.

This matter has never been more urgent or pressing. Since the pandemic hit, more people than ever have been pushed into destitution, unable to afford the essentials that we all need to survive. This has led to unprecedented numbers of people needing emergency food. However, these problems are not new. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on and accelerated many of the issues that communities were already facing. There has been a 71% increase in emergency food parcels provided by the Trussell Trust’s food bank network between 2015/16 and 2019/20. This isn’t right.

From their local community to their nation, each elected representative has the opportunity to use their power and influence to deliver the changes we need to work towards a hunger free future. That is why in these elections we’re calling on all candidates to commit to working to end the need for food banks if they are elected, and for newly elected governments, local authorities, and mayors to develop a plan to do so by:

  • Ensuring everyone can afford the basics.
  • Helping local services work together to ensure people get the right support at the right time.
  • Involving people with direct experience of poverty and local food banks.

It’s quick and easy to contact local candidates – will you ask them to pledge to working to end the need for food banks?

We stand at a crossroads at these elections – do we accept ever-rising levels of destitution and emergency food as an appropriate response to this need? Or do we take this opportunity to ensure all our elected representatives do everything in their power to create a hunger free future, where everyone can afford the essentials?

That is the choice our politicians will have to make over the coming months. But we can all play our part in campaigning for those elected to make this top of their in-tray from Day 1 of their new job. Ask them to make the pledge now.

And you can also make a difference by joining our campaign for a hunger free future. Together, we can make change happen.

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Together for change with the church community

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Food banks offer vital support to people across the country, and churches play a crucial part in this work, generously providing venues, volunteers, leadership, donations, and more. We’re so grateful to the church community for all that they do to help people in crisis and build a better future, where no one needs to turn to a food bank to get by.

That’s why, as we come together to build a hunger free future, we’re hosting a series of online Big Church Leaders’ Breakfasts, not only to say thank you to church leaders but also to share our vision for a UK without the need for food banks. Whether your church is already involved or you’re just keen to learn more about our work, this event has something for everyone.

There’ll be an opportunity to hear from Emma Revie, our Chief Executive, time for prayer and reflection, networking, a live Q&A, and input from church leaders and food bank teams.

We’re holding events for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in April and June this year, and we’re excited to talk about our vision and what we can achieve together.

Want to know more and register for your free place? Click here now.

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The pandemic and food banks: what’s happened and where do we go next?

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Blog by Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust 

There’s something about this time of year that often makes me feel both reflective and hopeful. And this Easter, with the recent anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, that feels especially heightened. So I wanted to share with you the challenges food banks across the country have faced over the past year, how we’ve responded, and what this means for what we’re doing next.

What were the challenges?

When the pandemic first hit, food banks faced four key challenges:

  1. How to help people access support safely?
  2. How to ensure there would be enough food at food banks so emergency support could be there for anyone struggling to afford the basics?
  3. How to link people who could volunteer safely up with food banks?
  4. How to ensure the public and policy makers were aware of what was happening, and knew what was needed to address the reasons why people didn’t have enough money in the first place?

What did we do?

Food banks have worked tirelessly over the last year to provide crucial support to people on a scale that has never been needed before, and to push for changes that would prevent people needing emergency food in the future. We’ve been supporting food banks in the following ways.

To help connect people with support safely, we:

  • Stepped up the rollout of our e-referral system rapidly, allowing organisations to refer to a food bank in our network without the need for an in-person meeting or paper voucher to be exchanged. In March, only 15% of referrals to food banks were e-referrals. Now, 68% of referrals are e-referral.
  • Set up a free national helpline in partnership with Citizens Advice (England & Wales). In April this helped people access food at a time when many local agencies who refer to food banks were closed and since May it has been staffed by specialist advisors, able to support callers to maximise their income and identify wider advice needs.
  • Provided ongoing support and guidance to our food bank network about the implications of rapidly changing government guidance, and distributed over £2 million of funding to food banks through two special coronavirus grants:
    • Emergency grants – for costs like short-term staffing, warehouse space, protective equipment, food and the transport and delivery of food
    • Recovery grants – for proactive projects that respond to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, eg services that make sure people are getting all of the money they’re entitled to.
  • Supported food banks to deliver emergency food to people: through a mixture of guidance and by building on our relationship with British Gas. More than 1,700 volunteers from British Gas supported most of the food banks in our network in Britain, contributing 58,656 hours to deliver vital food. The equivalent of 4 million meals for people in crisis were delivered by British Gas volunteers.

To help ensure emergency food was there for people, we:

  • Built on our long-standing partnership with Tesco, who generously donated £7.5million worth of food to support food banks during the early stages of the pandemic.
  • Partnered with British Gas, Palletforce, XPO and The Entertainer to get this food to food banks through a distribution network serving England, Wales and Scotland. This team effort across a range of industries played a pivotal part in food banks’ ability to continue supporting people.

To help link volunteers up with food banks, we:

  • Brought forward the launch of our volunteering platform. With around 51% of regular volunteers at food banks in our network over 65 and many people needing to shield, self-isolate or provide child-care, being able to connect new volunteers with food banks needing help was vital. This system helps food banks to easily advertise and recruit to specific volunteer roles, and then manage and communicate with volunteers easily.

To help campaign for long-term change, we:

  • Gathered and shared data on the increasing level of need for food banks throughout the summer and commissioned research from Herriot-Watt University to forecast food bank use in winter 2020/21.
  • Presented evidence to a number of select committees, worked alongside partners across the charity sector, and mobilised supporters across the UK to encourage their MPs to back the policy changes we knew would make a difference. This influencing with partners helped secure £63m during summer and £170m for December-March 2021 for local authorities in England to provide support to people struggling to afford the basics, and the six month extension to the £20 a week increase in universal credit payments. But we know there is much more that must be done to strengthen our social security system, and we’ll be pushing for more change.
  • Worked with a range of media outlets and influencers like Liam Payne and Michael McIntyre to draw attention to food bank use, creating a range of hard-hitting news stories and compelling features to build public understanding of why some people were being left without enough money for the basics.

What next?

The last year has shown just how willing people are to put their compassion into practice, on a scale we had never imagined would be needed.

During the first six months of the pandemic, food banks in our network provided more than 1.2 million emergency parcels to people unable to afford the basics, a 47% increase compared to the same period in 2019. The phenomenal commitment of food bank staff and volunteers, and the incredible support shown by charity partners, churches, corporate partners and the public meant food banks were able to provide emergency support to thousands and thousands of people struggling to afford the very basics.

But the last year has also shown us people’s real desire for longer-term change, for change that addresses the root causes of why so many people are being left without enough money in the first place – people want to show compassion, but they also want to see justice.

With things likely to change in the coming months, as a country we have a decision to make: either we accept food banks as part of our ‘normal’, or we work to create a more dignified, compassionate and just society where all of us have enough money for the essentials.

For me, there’s no question – it can never be normal that any of us need a charity’s help to put food on the table. When one person goes hungry, our whole society is weaker. That’s why throughout this coming year we’ll be working closely with food banks across our network, partners and people like you, to build a hunger free future.

If you want to join the movement for a hunger free future, click here to find out more.

A UK where no one needs emergency food might is ambitious, but the last year has shown us that if we work together, anything is possible. Together, we can create a hunger free future where none of us go hungry because none of us will allow it.

 

 

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How Covid-19 has affected the way we think about benefits

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As part of our Hunger Free Future campaign, we polled 2,000 people to find out how they feel about claiming benefits – and revealed that the pandemic has had a real impact on our views, suggesting that ‘benefits’ no longer carries the negative connotations it once might have done.

More than 40% of people said that before the pandemic, they would have felt – or did feel – embarrassed by the thought of claiming benefits. But with so many of us struggling financially in the wake of Covid-19, with businesses folding, redundances, and workers being furloughed, that perception has shifted. Now, just 35% of people feel that way.

“We have a unique opportunity to challenge the norm. The last 12 months have been hard for everyone – with many finding themselves weaker financially. But perhaps the universal impact of the pandemic has shown how the unexpected can hit any of us, and how much we need change.”

The Trussell Trust

And the poll also showed that more than 70% of people agreed it’s not right that anyone in a country as rich as the UK should need to use a charity for food. It’s time for change. The last year has been challenging – but 38% of people think the nation will be a more compassionate place a year from now. It’s time to harness that sense of care and community that has been so important to all of us throughout the pandemic and create long-term change.

Together, we can create a future where everyone can afford the basics – a more just, more compassionate society, where no one needs to turn to charity to get by.

Want to get involved in our movement for positive change? Join us now.

Or to read more about the poll, check out the London Economicthe Daily Starthe Mirror, or the Sun.

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Scale of food insecurity demands long-term plan to end the need for food banks

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By Tom Weekes, Research Manager

Scale of food insecurity demands long term plan to end the need for food banks.

Figures released today by the Food Standards Agency[i] (FSA) highlight the millions of people experiencing severe food insecurity during the pandemic. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network have seen this crisis first-hand, with the first six months of the pandemic being the network’s busiest ever.[ii]

Levels of food insecurity and need for food banks can be directly linked to the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first six months of the pandemic the number of people receiving unemployment benefits doubled.[iii] Unfortunately, we know too well that the design of the social security system often puts claimants at risk of food insecurity.[iv]

There is a very real risk that as the support provided by the UK government during this period is wound down, we will see a further rise in food insecurity and need for food banks. These measures have been essential in both mitigating the worst impacts of the pandemic and reversing years of inaction on the level of social security.

Along with our partners, we are urgently calling for the Chancellor to extend the uplift to Universal Credit by 12 months at the very least, preventing people up and down the country from being swept into poverty in the wake of the pandemic. As we move beyond the pandemic we are asking governments at all levels to commit to developing a plan to end the need for food banks.

Government statistics show scale of food insecurity during pandemic.

Today the FSA released their Food and You report, which collected information about people’s eating habits, across July and October 2020. This includes a measurement of food security which is defined as:

‘all people always having access to enough food for a healthy and active lifestyle’.

They found that 16% of adults across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were food insecure. Over one in twenty (7%) classified were severely food insecure. Using these figures, we can estimate that almost 8 million adults aged 16 and over were food insecure in these areas during this period, and almost 3.5 million were severely food insecure.

As an indication of the change in need, data collected in 2018 showed levels of food insecurity at 10%.[v] Due to a change in methodology these figures are not directly comparable to equivalent figures collected pre-pandemic.

People claiming social security not protected from food insecurity.

Over half (54%) of people just receiving income from social security are classified as food insecure,  with one in three (31%) classified as severely food insecure. These figures are respectively over three times, and over four times higher than the average.

Clearly the design of the social security system does not provide people the support they need to purchase life’s essentials. Food banks in our network see the consequences of this every day, with the majority of people needing support from a food bank last summer receiving social security (83%).

People with health problems far more likely  experience food insecurity

Our existing work shows that both physical and mental health problems are linked to needing support from a food bank. The data released today shows that people in bad or very bad health are more than twice as likely to be experiencing food insecurity (40% vs. 16%) and nearly four times more likely to be experiencing severe food insecurity (27% vs. 7%) than the average.

Families with children more at risk of food insecurity

During the pandemic, food banks in our network have seen a significant increase in the number of parcels that have been distributed to children. The figures released today show that families with children are twice as likely to be food insecure (23% vs. 12%) than households with no children. Similarly, they are more than twice as likely to be severely food insecure (11% vs. 5%).

People identifying as Black or Black British more likely to experience food insecurity.

Multiple reports show that the brunt of the economic and health consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have not been distributed evenly across society, strengthening existing socioeconomic inequalities. This report underpins these findings.

People identifying as Black or Black British are almost twice as likely (27% vs. 14%) to be reported to be experiencing food insecurity, than people identifying as white. People identifying as of mixed ethnicity are similarly more likely to be classified as food insecure (28% vs. 14%).

These figures cannot be ignored, governments at all levels must take note and commit to developing a plan to end the need for food banks.

It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics. That’s why we’re urging the public to join our Hunger Free Future movement to help create a UK without the need for food banks once and for all.

 

 

[i] Food and You 2 – Wave 1, (2021), Food Standard Agency, https://www.food.gov.uk/research/food-and-you-2/food-and-you-2-wave-1

[ii] Mid-year stats, (2020), The Trussell Trust, https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/mid-year-stats/

[iii] Claimant Count, (2021), ONS, https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peoplenotinwork/outofworkbenefits/datasets/claimantcountcla01

[iv] State of Hunger, (2019), The Trussell Trust, https://www.trusselltrust.org/state-of-hunger/

[v] Food and You 1 – Wave 5, (2019), Food Standard Agency, https://www.food.gov.uk/research/food-and-you/food-and-you-wave-five

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Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak misses opportunity to strengthen social security and protect people from poverty

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Blog by Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust

We are almost a year on from the beginning of a devastating pandemic which has taken away people’s lives and livelihoods.

We have seen a monumental rise in levels of serious hardship, record levels of need across our network of food banks and a vast number of people coming to food banks for the first time in their lives.

That is why today’s Budget was such a pivotal moment for our country. It was a vital opportunity to strengthen our social security system and help protect people on the lowest incomes for the difficult year ahead.

In his Budget the Chancellor announced a 6-month extension to the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, which was introduced at the start of the pandemic. While it’s right that this is maintained for six months, this short-term fix does not address the serious hardship and uncertainty families will face when it is removed in September, at a time when unemployment is forecast to increase. What’s more, people on most legacy benefits will continue to miss out.

We know from our recent research that the uplift has provided vital breathing space to hard-pressed budgets, with seven in ten (72%) people on Universal Credit since early 2020 saying the increase has made it easier to afford essentials.

One person, a teacher and a single mother, told us: “[The uplift] has made it possible to survive. Without it I could not afford heating or electricity. The increase has meant that I can get food for the fourth week in a month.”

The risks of removing the uplift are also clear, as one in five people currently on Universal Credit we surveyed think it’s very likely they’ll need support from a food bank if the removal goes ahead as planned. This represents more than one million people.

There are some bright spots in the Budget, which will provide support to people on the lowest incomes. We are pleased the government decided to bring forward plans to extend the period over which people must repay loans owed to the government to cover advance payments. These are loans many people need to take out to cover the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.

The government is also reducing the maximum amount which people can be forced to repay in debts to the Department for Work and Pensions. These measures were meant to come into effect this October, but will now do so in April – something we called for in our recent ‘Lift the Burden’ report.

But this does not come close to mitigating the impact of what will amount to a £1,000 income cut for low-income households in the autumn, taking with it the dignity this lifeline offered.

As we have seen over the last year, illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job can happen to any of us. We have also seen the positive benefits of what can happen when we work together. We owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

We know this can change. It is not too late for the government to rethink this plan. Along with our partners, we are urgently calling for the Chancellor to extend the uplift to 12 months at the very least, preventing people up and down the country from being swept into poverty in the wake of the pandemic.

Last week the Prime Minister promised that the government would ‘continue to look after people throughout this pandemic and beyond’, but the Chancellor’s announcement fails to address the ‘beyond’.

It’s time to build a better future together, taking action to create a stronger, more just society where everyone can afford the basics. That’s why we’re urging the public to join our Hunger Free Future movement to help create a UK without the need for food banks once and for all.

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The Universal Credit uplift must remain in place

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By Emily Spoor, Research Officer

This week, new benefit statistics show the huge scale of the economic impact of the pandemic. Almost 6 million people are now receiving Universal Credit (UC), up from 2.7 million in January last year and 3 million at the start of the pandemic. This doubling means that around one in seven working-age adults in Great Britain are now receiving support from UC.

New figures also show that in November there were 4.9 million households receiving UC – an increase of more than 80% since the start of the pandemic. The majority of the increase, around 1.4 million of the 2.2 million additional households, are single people with no children. We know that this group is more likely to need support from food banks. Many will be younger adults whose employment has been disproportionately impacted by the lockdown – the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds has increased by 3.1 percentage points in the last year, compared to just 1.3 percentage points for the overall population.[1]

However, the number of families with children receiving support from UC has still seen an increase of more than 50%, with more than 1.8 million now receiving UC.

During the pandemic, most of these households have been supported by an additional £20 a week to their benefits. By all accounts this uplift has been essential in preventing many people from experiencing poverty during the crisis – although policies like the benefit cap mean not everyone on UC has received the full uplift amount, and people receiving legacy benefits have been left out.

Our research showed that 72% of people receiving UC since early 2020 found the uplift made it easier for them to afford essentials than before. Cutting it would therefore put many at risk of having to go without the basics: 14% of people receiving UC thought it was very likely they’d need to use a food bank following the cut to UC, equating to more than a million people. This would clearly be unacceptable. The government must ensure that the social security provides people with enough income to be able to afford the essentials that we all need.

Further, we know that the economic impact of the pandemic has only just begun to be felt. Nearly a year into the pandemic in the UK the numbers of people on UC continue to climb – and with the furlough scheme rightly still in place to support jobs, we can expect that many of the job losses that result from the pandemic are still to come. In November, the OBR forecasts that unemployment will peak in mid-2021 and only return to pre-pandemic levels in around 4 years’ time.[2]

This context makes clear that the uplift must be maintained in the long term – and extended to people on legacy benefits who have missed out on the uplift. Some have suggested a short, six-month extension to the uplift, but this would mean cutting UC as unemployment peaks and forcing many more to make it through this economic crisis unable to reliably afford to eat, heat their home and pay their rent.

The uplift has been a huge relief for millions of people since April – it must stay in place to support them and the many more who are likely to need our safety net in the coming year.

[1] Office of National Statistics, Employment in the UK: February 2021

[2] Office for Budget Responsibility, Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2020

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Support from Papa John’s reaches £500,000

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In April 2020, we launched a new partnership with Papa John’s and we’re thrilled to announce that their support has now raised an incredible £500,000.

By fundraising on their website for us throughout 2020, Papa John’s have been able to help us make sure food banks can continue to provide emergency support in their communities, as well as work towards building a better future – one where no one need to turn to charity to get by.

At Christmas, Papa John’s ran a stripped back advertising campaign and donated the extra money they would normally have spent on festive creative to us and Crisis. They also donated 50p for every festive meal deal sold, featured customer donation buttons at checkout, and provided dedicated advertising space on their website.

Thanks to the support of customers, the money raised during the Christmas campaign helped to bring the total amount generated through Papa John’s support for the Trussell Trust up to over £500,000!

Head of Corporate Partnerships, Sophie Carre, says:

“Our partnership with Papa John’s and their incredible support means we can continue to respond to the changing situation and ensure food banks continue to provide the lifeline of emergency food and additional support for thousands of people in crisis. It also allows us to move forward with our work to tackle the root causes of poverty and campaign for long-term change. Our goal is ambitious, and this support means we can work together for real, long-term change to create a better future.”

And Papa John’s say:

We have been really pleased with the amount we have been able to raise with the help and support of our generous customers. The Trussell Trust is a fantastic charity who we are proud to work with.

It’s time to build a better future, and we’re so grateful to have partners like Papa John’s standing alongside us and people facing hunger to create change. We look forward to seeing what the partnership brings in 2021!

 

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The real impact of removing the Universal Credit uplift

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“I simply don’t know how I’d manage without it” – people share their experiences of the £20 uplift and the risks of taking it away.

By Emily Spoor, Research Officer

 

In April 2020, as the UK was hit by the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Government made the crucial step of increasing the Universal Credit Standard Allowance and Working Tax Credit by £20 per week – worth more than £1,000 a year to a household. This decision has offered people dignity during the crisis and prevented tens of thousands from needing to seek help to feed themselves and their family.

Our new research, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust, shows that the uplift has provided vital breathing space to hard-pressed budgets, with seven in ten (72%) people on Universal Credit since early 2020 saying the increase has made it easier to afford essentials. The risks of removing the uplift are also clear, as one in five people we surveyed think it’s very likely they’ll need support from a food bank if the removal goes ahead as planned.

Here, we explore people’s experiences of the uplift in their own words, as well as their thoughts and fears about a future without it.

 

The uplift means people don’t have to go without essentials.

The most common experience people shared with us was that the uplift allowed them to reliably afford basics, without, for example, having to go without food or ration the amount of time the heating was on. Having to go without essentials had been a common experience for people before the uplift.

“[The uplift] has made it possible to survive. Without it I could not afford heating or electricity.”

“I am a teacher and a single parent… The increase has meant that I can get food for the 4th week in a month.”

Several people explained that the increase meant they no longer needed to make impossible choices about what to go without, such as between eating enough and staying warm, or cutting down on food to afford a crucial, less frequent, purchase like shoes or a coat.

“An additional £80 a month is… the difference between being able to eat and having to choose between heating and food.”

 “I haven’t had to choose between buying some food or a new pair of shoes because mine have got a hole in… I’ve been able to buy both!”

 

The uplift provides financial and mental breathing space, giving a route out of day-to-day survival and hope for the future.

Many people explained that the uplift allowed them to reduce – or even end – the need to rely on debt to cover daily costs. This has a practical and a mental health benefit, as debt repayments and overdraft costs further reduce the amount available to spend on essentials in the future and the feeling of spiralling can cause intense stress and anxiety.

“It’s made a difference in paying bills. I fell in arrears with a few utilities and it’s helping me get back on track.”

“[The uplift has made] a big difference. It meant my payment was bigger than my overdraft limit, so it would definitely get paid off every month.”

Another common experience of the uplift that people shared was the positive impact on their mental and physical health. From a parent being able to afford fresh food for their children to a cancer patient being able to keep the heating on, it was clear the uplift gave people the option of looking after their and their families’ physical health rather than being forced to settle for less.

“[The uplift] has enabled me to eat better. Before the increase I wasn’t able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, because they were an extra I just could not afford.”

Improved mental health was also mentioned by many: both the absence of negative factors such as stress and anxiety, and actively positive changes such as increased self-worth. People told us that, as the uplift made it easier for people to afford all their essentials, their stress about what they might have to cut back on and how they’d manage to make ends meet was reduced.

“Less stress, money to pay for petrol, better food, less yellow tab food… better mental health, better physical health.”

“It makes me less stressed about the months end when I have to pay for the rent and all the bills. Every little extra helps.”

Several people explained that being able to afford to “contribute” by looking after their family was also hugely beneficial for their mental health. One person was able to save up and buy their family some Christmas presents, while another had been able to pay a monthly amount for a laptop for their son, allowing him to do his schoolwork properly from home.

 “[The uplift has made] an absolutely massive amount of difference both financially and mentally. I’ve been able to contribute more to the household, making me feel more comfortable and worthy of living.”

 

Without the uplift, people will be forced to go without essentials again and find it harder to get back on their feet.

Since these positive impacts have come as a direct result of the £20 uplift, it’s unsurprising that when asked about its removal people told us these improvements to their lives would be reversed. Many people told us that without the uplift they’d be forced into debt to cover the cost of essentials or would be forced to go without again. This is unacceptable – no one should have to go without food, heating or other basics because their benefit income is too low.

“I already have to make choices about what to spend my money [on] and am juggling debts, fuel costs and buying food and essentials. With a retraction of the extra £20, I know I would face hardship, in keeping warm, feeding myself and paying off my credit card (which I used for car repairs)”

Fear and hopelessness about a future of having to manage on less were also common experiences. The prospect of hunger and cold and mounting debts, and fears about eviction or being unable to look after family members, meant the future looked bleak for many.

“Even the thought of my losing this £20 a week brings me close to tears.”

Several people explained that losing the uplift would knock them back, making it harder for them to find work or be financially independent from family. These things contributed to a feeling of hopelessness – it was difficult to see how things might improve for them without the small amount of breathing space the uplift had provided.

“[Losing the uplift would mean] complete loss of all independence and dignity as I’d be dependent on my brother for financial help. It’s humiliating… I will steadily slip further into debt.”

“I’ve been saving for new “work” shoes that are going to last. The retraction of £20 per week would mean I’d have to use that small amount of savings for essentials and continue not applying to jobs that need proper equipment.”

 

The government must continue to protect the millions of people who receive Universal Credit – and the many more who’ll depend on it as the economic consequences of the pandemic play out.

It’s clear that the level of benefits was not adequate going into the pandemic, and that the uplift has been an important lifeline. People’s experiences clearly show that keeping the Universal Credit uplift and extending this lifeline to legacy benefits is the right thing to do – and would help us take a big step towards a hunger free future.

 

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Removing the Universal Credit uplift will put millions at risk of hunger

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By Rory Weal, Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Removing the uplift to Universal Credit will put millions at risk of hunger – the UK Government must do the right thing.

We are coming through one of the most testing winters in our modern history. With the vaccine roll-out developing at a pace, and the days getting longer, there are reasons to muster optimism. But one look at the jobless figures will bring anyone firmly down to earth. 

Six million people are currently claiming Universal Credit. As the furlough scheme winds down from the Spring, that number is set to rise even further. The Office for Budget Responsibility does not expect unemployment to fall to pre-crisis levels until 2024. At the same time, need for food banks has hit record levels and shows few signs of waning. 

It is in this context that the government is currently making a decision that will affect the lives of the millions who have struggled the most in our dark winter – whether or not to push ahead with a £20 cut in the Universal Credit standard allowance this spring.  

It is a sad fact – all too familiar to anyone who has been near a food bank – that our benefits system for too long has simply not given people enough money to afford the essentials in life. This reality was rightly recognised by the government last spring, when they acted decisively to uplift Universal Credit by £20 a week. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re on the breadline it is a life saver. We know that it has been the difference between many people needing to turn to a food bank and staying afloat. 

But this lifeline is at risk. Unless action is taken, the uplift is set to be whipped away in April, at the same time as support from furlough will wind down. The results could be little short of devastating. 

In our survey of people currently receiving Universal Credit, the consequences of this political choice come through starkly. As many as 20% of people claiming Universal Credit, representing 1.2 million people, say that they are ‘very likely’ to need to use a food bank if the £20 uplift is removed. Many more fear they will go hungry.  Four in ten (41%) say they are ‘very likely’ to have to cut back on food for themselves, representing over 2.4 million people.  These numbers make any cut – at a time of already record hardship – unconscionable. 

Children will suffer too. We know that parents would do almost anything before cutting back on food for their children, yet a quarter of a million families fear this will be the result if the uplift is ended. The evidence is clear  going ahead with the reduction would represent a betrayal of the Prime Minister’s welcome commitment that ‘no child will go hungry as a result of any government inattention’.  

There has been important recognition in recent weeks of this looming cliff edge, and other short-term policy fixes have been mooted. But these do not address the fundamental problem – before the crisis, following years of cuts and freezes, working age benefits simply did not give people enough money to afford the essentials.  This was a significant factor in why we saw food bank use rise year-on-year before the pandemic. We cannot return to that, not least in a period when unemployment will be at record levels and the challenges of finding work much greater as a result. This is an important moment to invest in the government’s flagship Universal Credit system, and help make it the poverty fighting machine we know it can be. 

There is a clear economic case for keeping the lifeline too. As our research shows, families don’t have enough financial resilience to save their extra £20 – they have to spend it in the real economy. It is not just food they will cut back on if it goes, but clothing, heating and other vital essentials. Given this money disproportionately goes to the poorest communities in the UK, this would remove a significant amount of demand from fragile local economies at the very time when spending is desperately needed to propel growth. As a result, not only will whipping it away deprive these families of the essentials, it will undermine economic recovery and the ‘levelling up’ agenda in our poorest communities. 

At the budget in just a few weeks’ time, Rishi Sunak has a choice to make. Do we give people the dignity and means to afford essentials, taking a vital step towards a hunger free future, or do we accept widespread modern-day destitution and ever rising need for food banks? The evidence is in, the uplift has been a lifeline. It must be kept. 

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