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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Hunger Free Future: the campaign so far

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In November 2020, we launched an ambitious campaign to create change – to build a movement of people who will work alongside the Trussell Trust to create a hunger free future.

In the first six months of the pandemic, food banks in the Trussell Trust network gave out a staggering 1.2 million emergency food parcels. That’s one food parcel every 13 seconds, and 2,600 of these went to children every day on average.

Over the past year, we’ve all made incredible changes to the ways we live, work, and look after each other. And in the past few months, we’ve seen amazing compassion and concern for families, children, and people in crisis – with food banks, community groups, and others stepping up to help.

But this kind of help shouldn’t be needed. This isn’t right and as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we need change now more than ever. That’s why we’re calling for a hunger free future, and asking people just like you to stand with us and create a different future.

Since Hunger Free Future began, more than 80,000 of you have pledged your voice – thank you! And we’ve raised a fantastic £4 million from our generous supporters, which will help us and our Foodbank Network work towards a future where food banks are no longer needed.

Communities like these in Nottinghamshire have shown us the amazing things we can achieve together. And while food banks work hard to cope with increased need in their areas, they’re also working to create long-term change.

Thanks to supporters like you, we’re making a real difference as we move towards a hunger free future. We know it isn’t right that anyone should need to use a food bank, and we know that tens of thousands of you agree. Looking at what we’ve achieved in just a few months, with so many of you raising your hands to demand fundamental change, both locally and nationally, we know that this year change is possible.

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A village bands together to push for a Hunger Free Future

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Our campaign engagement officer, Hannah Mae Trow, explains how one village has pulled together to push for a #HungerFreeFuture in the lead up to this Christmas. 

 This year has been incredibly difficult for so many people across the country. We’ve all been hit by something unexpected and outside of our control, and for thousands of us that has meant not having enough money for the basics. Food banks in our network have seen more people than ever before being forced to them for support. This isn’t right.  

But we can’t ignore that this year has also shown us is just how much people care about each other – and it couldn’t have been clearer in 2020 just how much people want to act on that compassion, and work for a future where there’s justice for all of us.  

Which brings us to the village of Quidhampton, in Wiltshire.  

I’ve worked with campaigners and activists for a few years at the Trussell Trust now, but I’m still surprised at just how much people come together to do amazing feats of community activism – both online and ‘in real life’. 

So I was delighted to hear that in Quidhampton, not too far from where I live, members of the village community banded together to support the fight for a Hunger Free Future. Villagers proudly displayed their plate protest plates to tell neighbours about the campaign, collected food across the neighbourhood and donated money to support our work. 

Bea Tilbrook the editor of the Quidhampton Village Newspaper, regularly puts out mentions of our  work and of collections happening in the village. She sent out a village-wide email about the plate protest, and it wasn’t long before many community members were joining together to take action: 

Jane at Alexandra Cottages not only put up her plate protest poster in the window to explain why she wants a Hunger Free Future, but also generously donated £200 to help us in the fight to end the need for food banks. 

Nick and Tat from Coronation Square regularly do neighbourhood food collections, and this time they manage to collect over 38kg of food and toiletries for Salisbury Foodbank. 

And many other members of the village proudly displayed their posters in their homes, in their car windows, and the bus shelter.  

Jane explains:  

‘I think it is a sad statement of the UK that so many people need to use a food bank. I think it is truly wonderful what you (Trussell) do to support people in crisis, but we can do so much better as a country than this. Universal Credit is not a one size fits all, and the government really needs to look at it and put the human element back in to its policies.

The country is full of good people and heroes, like your volunteers and NHS workers. I believe we all want to see the end of poverty, and we need the government to do their bit to make it happen.

I am supporting the campaign (Hunger Free Future) and putting my money where my mouth is. I hope you get many people supporting you too to end the need for food banks.’ 

Together, thanks to people like Jane, Bea, Nick and Tat showing how everyone can get involved, the village of Quidhampton is calling for change. 

Which made me think: how many other communities would come together to take action too?

So my challenge for the new year, if you’ll take it, is to see if you can rally your community to join the #HungerFreeFuture campaign. There are so many different ways people can get show their support. Sign up here to find out the different ways you, and your neighbours, could get involved.  

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How people who have used Manchester Foodbank and the team there are pushing for change together

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Lauren Tunnicliffe, project manager of Manchester Central Foodbank, shares more about Can You Hear Me Now?, a listening campaign and creative participation project that is bringing people who have used the food bank together with the food bank team to push for longer term change. 

 “Changing the world is a big job, but this is a great place to start.”

During the recent US election the topics of voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of minority groups and poor voters were often at the forefront of the conversation. But US politics is not the only place where people who are experiencing poverty and destitution are prevented from being able to ask for what they need. From working at Manchester Central Foodbank we know that people here in Manchester without enough money are denied the autonomy and confidence to advocate for themselves in every aspect of their daily lives. On top of this, those creating anti-poverty strategies have historically been slow to catch on to the fact that they should be led by the voices and expertise of people they are supposed to be helping. We know now that in order to demand change and erase the need for food banks, we must be driven by those who have experienced that need.

Can You Hear Me Now? Is a listening campaign and creative participation project that we’ve been working on with Manchester based artist-led community organisation, Get It Done. Throughout the project we’ll be listening to the stories of people who come to our food bank, and learning about what would need to happen in their lives to make the need for food banks a thing of the past. 

Alongside this the wonderful artists at Get It Done have designed an exciting and inspiring activity pack, filled with creative activities that prompt the reader to think about ways they can care for themselves, their communities, and the world. We’ll be giving these packs out in our food parcels, and working with local schools and frontline organisations to help children and adults reimagine their communities and think about the change they want to see. We’ll be using our platform as a food bank to boost the voices of the people we have spoken to and who have created pieces of work using the activity packs, through exhibitions, online archiving, and targeted campaigning. 

Our hope is that we will be able to work with people who’ve used the food bank to co-create meaningful campaigns for change. We want the voices and stories of people experiencing poverty to inform both how we run our food bank, and how we fight for a system that works for everyone. Simultaneously we hope the activities in the packs will give people the opportunity to mindfully take a break from the pressures of everyday life, and think creatively about what they would change about the world.

Right now we’re fundraising to be able to put these activity packs together. We’ll be professionally printing the activity booklet, and providing the craft supplies to go with it. If you want to help make this project happen, you can donate either at our justgiving page, or by paying it forward, and buying one of our activity booklets, at a price that will cover the cost of putting another pack together for someone receiving a food parcel.

As with all things right now, the coronavirus crisis has added another layer of meaning, significance, and logistical difficulty to this project. You don’t need us to tell you that this is a scary and worrying time for people in poverty. People’s lives are more turbulent and unpredictable than ever, but sometimes it can take the systems in our normal lives breaking down for us to be able to build them up again. Right now, the world is going through changes on a scale that many of us won’t ever see again in our lifetimes, and we want to make sure these changes are driven by the people that they will affect the most.

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The Long Read: Millions of people are experiencing destitution – why, and what can we do about it?

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Our series of blogs deep-diving into what’s happening in food banks continues, as Research Manager Tom Weekes delves into today’s new report on destitution from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

Destitution. A word that conjures images of complete poverty, something that surely couldn’t happen in a modern society? Yet todays shocking release by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reminds us that not only is destitution common across the UK, it is a fast-growing problem.  

This is something that food banks in the Trussell Trust network will unfortunately be well aware of. Food banks have long been at the frontline of destitution  our latest data shows that 94 per cent of people referred to food banks in our network were classed as destitute. 

JRF’s research estimates that more than 2.4 million people experienced destitution at some point in 2019, including over half a million children. These figures are up by a staggering 52 and 54 per cent respectively since they were last measured in 2017.  

Given the significant economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of people experiencing destitution is likely to have been even higher during 2020. Food banks have seen record levels of need this year already. The Trussell Trust recorded a 47% increase in the number of parcels distributed during the first six months of the crisis in comparison to the same period in 2019.  

What does destitution mean 

There are many different definitions of poverty used in the UK, but in short destitution means people are unable to afford the absolute essentials that we all need. These include (brackets detail how they are measured) 

  1. Shelter (someone has slept rough for one or more nights) 
  2. Food (someone has had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days) 
  3. Heating their home (someone has  been unable to heat their home for five or more days) 
  4. Lighting their home (someone has been unable to light their home for five or more days) 
  5. Clothing and footwear (appropriate for the weather) 
  6. Basic toiletries (such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and a toothbrush 

Why are people falling into destitution?  

The report highlights a number of factors that drive destitution including issues with the administration of benefits, the sufficiency of benefit payments and eligibility for benefits.  

Some of these issues have been partially – and temporarily – addressed during the Covid-19 crisis. We have seen welcome steps by the government to support people, including the temporary £20 weekly increase  to Universal Credit and essential investment in Local Welfare Assistance in England. However, this report highlights the issue of debt to the government. It finds that the five-week wait for the first UC payment, and the reduction in payments people then get when they have to pay back an advance taken to cover that wait,  is a core driver of destitution.   

A woman interviewed for the JRF study states:  

“… as soon as my claim went through … I owed them £514 … Because for six weeks I had no income, so when I got the advance, that went on everything that I [already] owed … Then by the time I got to December – you’re just never catching up, because of the way it starts. Hence, the reason that we had to use a food bank to even survive.”  

This was reflected in our recent work which detailed that almost half of people who were supported by food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network this summer were having money taken by the government from their benefit payments, with close to three in four of those on Universal Credit repaying an advance payment.  

What can we do?  

This isn’t right and the government can take immediate action by:  

  • Suspending benefit deductions during the winter months until there is a more just  system for repaying advance payments and other debts to the DWP.  

With the uplift to Universal Credit ending at the end of March 20201, the government must also make the right choice in supporting people from April next year. They need to:  

  • Lock in the £20 rise to Universal Credit, and extend it to people currently excluded.  

This increase has been a lifeline,  essential in preventing many more people falling into destitution. Removing it would be a hammer blow to families relying on it to get by across the country. That is why we have joined with JRF and organisations across the anti-poverty sector to urge the government to Keep the lifeline.  

We can create a future where destitution is something we only read about in history books – a Hunger Free Future, where we all have enough money for the basics. If you want to help end this injustice for good, join us in the campaign for a Hunger Free Future today. 

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Help us raise £1 million to ensure no one struggles to afford the basics, this Christmas and beyond

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This week we have exciting news –  a small group of incredibly generous supporters has offered to match any donations given to the Trussell Trust between today and Christmas, up to a total of £500,000 

This is an extraordinary opportunity to raise £1 million over the next few weeks – with every pound being used to build a better Christmas and a Hunger Free Future for families across the UK.  

Please donate today.

This couldn’t have come at a more vital time. Food banks in our network are set to be busier than ever this winter, and could give out an emergency food parcel every 9 seconds to people across our country 

This is not right. It’s time to end the injustice of people needing food banks – with your help, we can come together to make that happen. 

We know what it’ll take. Our vision is for a UK without the need for food banks – you can read our new five year plan here for how we’ll work towards a just, compassionate future where no one needs to use a food bank to get by.  

£1 million will help us:  

  1. Offer a range of support to food banks helping people unable to afford food right now  
  2. Develop projects with food banks that help prevent people needing support a second time – eg through projects which ensure people are getting all the money they’re entitled to  
  3. Campaign for the longer-term changes that we know will bring us closer to a future where everyone can afford the essentials.  

Our vision for a UK without the need for food banks is ambitious but we know that if we work together, we can reach it.   

This year we’ve already made incredible changes to the way we live, work and look after each other. If we take action together now, we can start to build a future where we can all afford the essentials. 

It’s never been easier to help – simply click the button below, make your donation and know whatever you’re able to donate will be doubled. 

Please donate today. 

Thank you so much for your support – with your donation today, we can build a future where nobody needs to go without the basics, this Christmas and beyond.  


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