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Universal Credit: Food Banks

Volume 656: debated on Monday 18 March 2019

13. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on the level of referrals to food banks. (909841)

18. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on the level of referrals to food banks. (909846)

Our own evidence does not show a direct link between the increase in food bank use and the roll-out of universal credit. As the Trussell Trust has said, it is impossible to identify one single cause. Universal credit spends £2 billion more than the system it replaces, and it incentivises work, providing a pathway out of poverty.

In my surgery on Friday, I met a family with very young children who have been without benefits to which they are entitled since before Christmas, due to mistakes by the DWP. They are already in housing rent arrears and reliant on the local food bank. Without resolving those errors, the DWP is now moving them on to universal credit, where the terrifying prospect of a five-week wait and no funds to repay an advance pose a real risk of homelessness. I want the Secretary of State not only to look into this case but to deal with the incompetence and cruelty in her Department, which are causing such misery for far too many people.

First, I give a commitment that, yes, I am very happy to look into that specific case. It highlights the problems with the legacy benefits, whereby £2.4 billion a year of benefits were missed. It was a complex, bureaucratic process where mistakes could happen and claimants—particularly vulnerable claimants —did not take what they were entitled to. Under universal credit, with personalised, tailored support, mistakes can be rectified more quickly.

Rent arrears are deducted from jobseeker’s allowance at £3.70 a week, but for universal credit the deduction is £31 a month, while overpaid benefits and advance payments are deducted at even higher rates. Some of my constituents are having over £100 deducted from their monthly universal credit payments, forcing them to dip into their rent money and use food banks just to get by. They would not find themselves in this position if they were not waiting up to five weeks to receive their first payment. The Secretary of State says she has put in measures to address that, but they clearly are not working. When will Ministers face the facts and scrap the five-week wait?

Those transferring from legacy benefits would get two weeks’ housing benefit run-on, no strings attached, in addition and would automatically be offered the advance payment. We have lengthened the time over which that would be repaid and lowered the rate at which it would be claimed back.