MORE than 30 bishops, including the Bishops of Durham, Ely, and Worcester have signed a petition calling for the Government to “fix” Universal Credit, after evidence suggested an increased use in foodbanks in the areas where the benefit change had been rolled out.
By Wednesday, 32 bishops had signed the petition, which has been brought by the End Hunger UK Coalition, which includes the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty, and Oxfam. It calls on the Government to respond to evidence that foodbank use has soared in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out.
The petition will be delivered to Downing Street on 7 November. At the time of going to press, it had been signed by more than 9000 people.
It emerged this week that the Government is planning to delay the full roll-out of Universal Credit until 2023. The system was originally scheduled to be completely operational by the end of 2017.
The BBC obtained the leaked documents that appeared to confirm the six-year delay. They also suggested that the Government would be spending millions more to fix some of the flaws in the scheme.
A report published last month by the Resolution Foundation suggested that the two key advantages of introducing Universal Credit — improved financial incentives and increased take-up — had been undermined by subsequent budget cuts, roll-out delays, payment problems, and financial hardships for applicants (News, 21 September).
Last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, admitted that some families would be “worse off” under Universal Credit. This month, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, called for the “iniquitous” policy to be scrapped.
Ms McVey told the Commons on Monday: “Under the process of managed migration, the roll-out will be slow and measured. It will start not in January 2019 [as originally planned], but later in the year.
“For a further year, we will be learning as we go with a small amount of people — maybe 10,000 — to ensure that the system is right. The roll-out will then increase from 2020 onwards. It will be slow and measured, and we will adapt and change as we go.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood, said that the Government had “quietly accepted that their flagship social-security programme isn’t working”.
She told MPs that Universal Credit had “pushed many families into poverty, debt, and misery”.
The 32 bishops to have signed End Hunger UK’s petition are: the Bishop of Bath & Wells; the Bishop Beverley; the Bishop of Brixworth; the Bishop of Carlisle; the Bishop of Coventry; the Bishop of Croydon; the Bishop of Dover; the Bishop of Durham; the Bishop of Ely; the Bishop of Gloucester; the Bishop at Lambeth; the Bishop of Leeds; the Bishop of Leicester; the Bishop of Lewes; the Bishop of Lichfield; the Bishop of Liverpool; the Bishop of Loughborough; the Bishop of Manchester; the Bishop of Newcastle; the Bishop of Peterborough; the Bishop of Portsmouth; the Bishop of Rochester; the Bishop of Salisbury; the Bishop of Southwark; the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham; the Bishop of St Albans; the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich; the Bishop of Stafford; the Bishop of Taunton; the Bishop of Warwick; the Bishop of Wolverhampton; and the Bishop of Worcester.
Bishop Butler said this week: “We need urgent action to improve the flexibility and support for people on Universal Credit, and a long-term commitment that the social security system will provide enough income for them to afford to feed themselves and their families properly.
“Without such action, we can expect to see more and more people turning to foodbanks and becoming trapped in poverty.
“The problems we are seeing with Universal Credit at church-run foodbanks across the country must be resolved before many more people are moved on to the new benefit.”
It was reported earlier this month that Bishop Butler and the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, had already signed the petition.