Labour MP Stephen Timms has praised Amber Rudd for her admission that issues with Universal Credit have contributed to food bank use.
Ms Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, said that there were “challenges with the initial roll-out” and they were one of the factors that caused food bank use to rise.
According to the food bank charity the Trussell Trust, there were 1,332,952 emergency food packages given between April 2017 and March 2018 - a 13% increase on the previous year.
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“I’m really pleased that Amber Rudd has recognised that Universal Credit has forced people into using food banks,” said Mr Timms, the former shadow work and pensions secretary.
“Up until now they’ve always denied that, so I welcome the change of heart. Where I don’t agree with the minister, is that she implied early hiccups were the problem, but actually it was the five-week delay between claiming universal credit and then being entitled to benefits.
“Amber Rudd said, ‘it’s okay, we can give you an advance if you need one’, but that means people are being forced into debt with the DWP right at the start of their claim.
“A lot of people are finding it then hard to get out of debt and they end up at the food bank.”
'Damaging five-week wait'
The Trussell Trust’s Five Weeks Too Long campaign is calling for the wait to be shortened, and Mr Timms said he supports the campaign.
“The theory was when you leave your job, you’ll have a month’s salary in the bank. Add a month to the ten days it’s always been [between claiming and receiving benefits], and that takes you up to five weeks,” he told Julia Hartley-Brewer.
“But the reality for most people is they do not have a month’s salary in the bank when they sign up to universal credit. What about people on weekly pay, or zero hour contracts? It’s a complete myth, and they’re the people who find themselves forced into debt and forced to take one of these advances from the DWP.”
He added that he hoped change could be implemented under Ms Rudd.
“Amber Rudd is a real breath of fresh air and I hope she’s got the clout to make the changes that are needed and in particular to shorten that really damaging five-week wait at the start of people’s claims,” he said.
“Most people who go to foodbanks really don’t want to be there. It’s quite a humiliating experience to go to food banks, the people there try and make it as pleasant as possible but they don’t want to be there.
“Social security should not be forcing people into debt.”