In one of the largest economies in the world, people are going hungry. Changes to the UK’s welfare benefit system, including the Conservative’s widely criticised Universal Credit reform, combined with rising rates of poverty mean that the country's most vulnerable are struggling to eat.
Alarmingly, the situation is getting worse. According to figures released today from UK food bank charity The Trussell Trust, a record 1.6 million food parcels were given out in 2018—a 19 percent increase from 2017, making it the busiest year since the charity was founded in 1997. As reported by the Guardian, over 500,000 of these parcels went to children. This is the fifth year in a row that food bank usage has risen in Britain, and the biggest annual increase in five years.
The Trussell Trust is now demanding urgent reform to the Universal Credit system, which has caused extreme delays to individual benefit payments since the completion of its roll out this year. The charity says that almost half of the food bank referrals it receives relating to benefit delays can be directly linked to Universal Credit. It wants the five-week wait for initial Universal Credit payments to be scrapped, and for benefits to match living wage.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has denied the link between Universal Credit and food bank usage, but also admitted in a statement in the Commons earlier this year that the “challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit” may have led to “an increase in food bank use,” due to the fact that “people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.”
Earlier this year, MUNCHIES spoke to families on the front line of Britain’s food crisis, and found that many struggled to afford food following reduction in benefit payments, as well as job losses and low wages.
In a press release, The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right.”
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty,” she continued. “Universal Credit should be part of the solution but currently, the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics. As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.”
“Ultimately,” Revie said, “it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a food bank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security.”