CHARITY founder Denis Curran MBE looked on in despair as struggling families queued around the block for something to eat at Christmas. Loaves and Fishes chairman Denis Curran making an impassioned plea to the Scottish Parliament. A HEARTBROKEN food bank champion described this as the worst Christmas he has experienced in more than two […]
A government minister has defended the “disaster” of introducing universal credit to Great Yarmouth – and blamed benefit claimants for some of the problems.
Universal Credit replaced six other welfare allowances, including housing benefit, with one monthly payment in Yarmouth and Lowestoft this spring. But delays in claimants getting the money has led to some of the poorest tenants falling into rent arrears and being evicted.
Landlords and councils are owed tens of thousands of pounds in rent, while charities say it has led to more demand on soup kitchens and their services. Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Eastern Landlords’ Association, described the new system as a “disaster”.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council wrote to work and pensions secretary Damian Green in November about the problems caused by the delays in paying universal credit.
In a letter responding to the council, Mr Green wrote the roll-out of the new benefit system had been “carefully planned”, but admitted there had been problems. “We recognise that there are areas for improvement in the service,” he said.
But he said some delays were being caused by claimants “not providing the required evidence” for their claim despite “repeated requests” which meant job centre staff were having to chase them. He said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was dealing with this by making it clearer which information claimants needed to provide.
Mr Green also said the DWP had put extra staff into clearing the backlog of applications.And he said councils had been given £500m in what is called Discretionary Housing Payments to support people in financial difficulty.
Councillors also quizzed Mr Green in the letter about why Yarmouth was chosen as one of the first places in the country to test the new system. Norfolk County councillor Jonathon Childs, called for a meeting between the DWP, local politicians and charities to help those affected.
“The effects of universal credit are really shocking and the length of time that claimants have to wait is far too long,” he said. “What are people meant to live on while the claims are dealt with?”
An investigation by this newspaper found some tenants ran off owing landlords thousands of pounds when they were finally paid, while others were £1500 in rent arrears.
The Yarmouth soup kitchen said it had seen a 300pc rise in demand over the autumn, which it put down to people not receiving universal credit on time.
There’s a Barbie sat among other dolls. A dancing monkey. Soft cuddly toys. In a food bank in Paddington, London, volunteer Jane is counting through the donated presents to hand out to children next week. Or, as she puts it to me, for “any who need one”.
For families who don’t have the money for bags of pasta or a tin of meat, Christmas means not only hunger but more costs they can’t afford. “I ask people who come in what they’re doing for Christmas and they look at me like, ‘I’m in a food bank. What can I do for Christmas?’” Jane says.
Look around the food bank’s neighbouring streets and you find yourself in the middle of two-tier Britain: in Jane’s words, a “posh” part of the capital that also runs emergency food parcels out of the local community centre. This month has seen the biggest surge in use in the food bank’s three-year history: last week about 100 people came through the doors in a couple of hours. Kensington and Chelsea – where there are streets where the average property can set a buyer back £8m – is about to shut its food bank. Its users are already coming to Paddington, Jane says.
Jane, 52, started helping at the food bank a year ago, after she was made redundant. She’s familiar with illness – she was a health journalist – but is struck by seeing people hungry. “Not a little bit peckish because they skipped breakfast or haven’t had lunch. But hungry because they haven’t eaten for around three or four days,” she says. “Literally nothing.”
As wages shrink, rents rise and benefits are cut, Jane sees the citizens who could be described as collateral damage: a stroke victim left with large lapses in memory sanctioned by the jobcentre for forgetting an appointment; a care worker earning barely a tenner a day because her travel costs come out of her pocket; a PhD student who lost his house and now lives in a Tesco car park. It’s the dark shadows under people’s eyes that stand out for Jane. Frequently they’re stick-thin; disoriented. Very often they’re on the verge of tears. “They feel they have to apologise for being here,” she says. “We had one pensioner shaking with embarrassment.”
A DAMNING report on the chaotic implementation of Universal Credit in Sedgemoor says claimants are being forced to use food banks to survive and are running up rent arrears as they wait for claims to be handled.
Universal Credit replaced other benefits for all claimants in Sedgemoor this summer. The district is a pilot area, before Universal Credit is implemented nationally.
But the impact on people in Bridgwater and the rest of Sedgemoor is already making worrying reading.
Members of Sedgemoor District Council’s community scrutiny committee are meeting on Monday (November 28, 2016) to discuss a report put together by council staff, Citizens Advice Sedgemoor and Digilink – an organisation that helps people with online access – about the impact of Universal Credit in Sedgemoor.
The report does not make pleasant reading.
The CAB has said:
Long delays in payment are forcing people to rely on food banks to survive.
Many claimants face “digital exclusion” – with no internet access they struggle to make claims and are not being told they can claim in other ways.
Clients without bank accounts are frozen out.
During the waiting time for claims to be paid, claimants are running up rent arrears. When the first payment comes it is often used to pay the rent, leaving nothing for living costs.
Processes are unclear and clients are receiving conflicting information from Job Centre Plus.
The report highlights the problems faced by people struggling to deal with the online system and says there is inadequate support for the most vulnerable.
Labour says Universal Credit is not working and people are being forced into destitution.
Cllr Mick Lerry, leader of the Labour Group on Sedgemoor Council, said: “I welcome the work undertaken by Sedgemoor District Council, to highlight the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit in the district.
“The evidence shows that Universal Credit is not supporting the most vulnerable people and the inadequate administration of the programme is forcing many into debt and reliance on loan sharks and food banks.
“Case studies show that the roll out of UC is not working and the Department of Work and Pensions must understand how the people in need are being forced into destitution.
“I have sent the report to Debbie Abrahams, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for DWP, so that she is aware of what is happening to people locally and can challenge the Government, with the evidence in the report.”
Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences of Universal Credit mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink particularly in terms of the level of support required.
Digilink said the most vulnerable 15 to 20 per cent in society was really struggling with a lack of confidence in using computers and the internet, while lots of clients did not have a bank account, an address or access to a telephone – a major problem as Universal Credit is “digital by default” and there is no other route into accessing it.
“The biggest problem was reported as clients being pushed from pillar to post,” said a Digilink spokesman. “There is a lack of understanding – clients don’t understand why they’re filling things out, what they’re applying for or what the end result will be.
“By not understanding the process we’ve found that some clients have difficulty explaining themselves and their individual circumstances.
“As a result we have seen an increase in frustrated clients and are concerned about the impact on their emotional wellbeing. In some cases they vent their frustrations and sometimes anger at the volunteers.”
For every 10 people stripped of their cash by Job Centre officials, five hungry people seek emergency food aid, according to a landmark report
Half of welfare claimants hit with cruel benefit sanctions turn to food banks to feed themselves, an Oxford University study suggests.
For every 10 people stripped of their cash by Job Centre officials, five hungry people seek emergency food aid, according to a landmark report.
Academics found a “strong, dynamic relationship” between the hated sanctions regime and demand for three-day food parcels handed out by the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank operator.
Report author Dr Rachel Loopstra said: “These findings show clear evidence of sanctions being linked to economic hardship and hunger, as we see a close relationship between sanctioning rates and rates of food bank usage across local authorities in the UK.”
The sanctions regime sees some of the poorest in society stripped of their welfare payments if they fail to turn up for Job Centre appointments.
One group has helped more than 1.1m people in the UK over the last year
It’s something which more and more people are starting to rely on – foodbanks.
But behind all the figures around the growing demand are real people who, for a variety of reasons, depend on their foodbank visits to provide them and their families with the basics.
One of these examples is the foodbank at the City Temple in Cardiff , one of seven foodbank centres in the city managed by The Trussell Trust. The Trussell Trust run a network of foodbanks across the UK, providing more than 1.1m three-day food emergency parcels to people in 2015/2016.
One user of the City Temple foodbank is Anthony, 51, from Cardiff.
He said: “I have to come here because I can’t work, I’ve got my children to look after and the money I receive just isn’t enough to get on. I don’t want to think what would happen if this service wasn’t here.”
The parcels of food handed out to users at the foodbank consist of non-perishable goods from dried pasta to tins of soup and vegetables. Most people at the centre said each parcel provides for at least a week………………..
Another user John, 33, said: “This is my second time coming to a food bank.
“I’m here because my benefits have been cut and I just don’t have enough money. I end up with £47 a week to pay for all of my food and my bills – it’s just impossible.”