Pressure on food banks after universal credit is rolled out in Huntingdonshire

Huntingdonshire food banks expect to see a rise in demand as universal credit is rolled out.

Huntingdonshire food banks expect to see a rise in demand as universal credit is rolled out. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Foodbanks in Huntingdonshire say they expect to see an increase in the number of people relying on their services after a new welfare system is rolled out in the district.

Hundreds of people in Huntingdonshire have already been moved to the universal credit system despite concerns from campaigners that some will have less money as a result of the changes.

Universal credit will replace six benefits and provide people with a single monthly payment.

Millions of people were expected to start being moved over to the new scheme from their existing benefits in late 2017 but it is believed that some people may not be put on it until November 2020.

However, foodbanks in the area have said that they expect to see a rise in the number of people who will call on their services due to the new system.

A spokesman for the Trussell Trust, of which St Neots and Godmanchester foodbanks are members, said: “When universal credit goes live in an area, there is a demonstrable increase in demand in local Trussell Trust foodbanks. On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see a 52 per cent increase in demand, compared to 13 per cent in areas with universal credit for three months or less.

“This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations.

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“Benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto universal credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full universal credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many; simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.”

A spokesman for St Neots foodbank said: “We can’t speak for Huntingdon, but in St Neots we are anticipating an increase in demand because of universal credit roll-out. We are hoping that generous donations of food from supporters continues. “Fortunately, we are now in the harvest festival season and we are receiving lots of staple food.”

Universal credit will replace six benefits including; child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance and working tax credit.

Department for Work and Pensions figures show that 596 benefit claimants in Huntingdonshire had been moved onto the new universal credit system by last month.

It is an increase of 25 per cent on the number of people enrolled on it in September 2017.

Reports this week have suggested that the rollout of the welfare change is now not expected to be fully operational until the end of 2023.

Of those who had been moved to the scheme in Huntingdonshire last month, 36 per cent were in employment.

The Government has said that universal credit will benefit about three million households in the country when the new system is introduced.

Speaking in the House of Commons this week, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said that 3.2 million families with children could lose around £50 a week under universal credit.

She added: “Universal credit, the Government’s flagship social security programme, has been beset with flaws in its design and delivery. It’s causing immense hardship for many people wherever it is rolled out.

“It is hard to believe now, but universal credit was designed to lift people out of poverty and smooth the transition into work to ensure that it always pays. The reality is that universal credit is a vehicle for cuts.”

Ms Greenwood said that confusion about the transfer between benefit systems was causing real concern for families, and leaving some facing “hunger and destitution”.

Julie Nix, service leader at Jobcentre Plus, said: “Universal credit offers tailored support, which includes more personalised help from a work coach. The new system is also more flexible, which means people can take on short-term work to develop their skills and build up their experience.

“Our staff are trained to support people throughout the claim process. We’d encourage anyone who needs extra help or information to come and talk to their work coach.”