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Foodbank charity warns cut to Universal Credit will lead to hunger

10 September 2021

HASPhotos / Alamy Stock Photo

A shopping trolley with donated tins at the national food bank collection for Trussell Trust foodbanks

A shopping trolley with donated tins at the national food bank collection for Trussell Trust foodbanks

UP TO 1.2 million people could be forced to skip meals if the Government goes ahead next month with its plan to end the weekly £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the Trussell Trust says.

The cut might also mean that 1.3 million people would be unable to afford to heat their homes this winter, a survey for the Trust, which runs 1300 foodbanks across the UK, suggests.

Additionally, it is suggested that, for about 670,000 people, ending the tem­por­ary increase made during the pan­­demic means that they would be unlikely to be able to afford the power to cook food, and 900,000 would not be able to pay for essential journeys, for purposes such as work and medical appointments.

The Trust’s chief executive, Emma Revie, said: “Cutting this lifeline will be a devastating blow for millions of households already struggling to make ends meet. These are families already caught in impossible situations who worry every day about switching on the heating and feeding their children. They are families who are nearly at breaking point, but just about managing to keep their heads above water.”

The research was published at the same time that a coalition of 100 organisations from across the political spectrum — from groups caring for the disadvantaged to the Conservative think tank Bright Blue, called on the Prime Minister to halt the planned £20 cut.

In an open letter to Boris Johnson released on Thursday of last week, they write that the country is rapidly approaching a crossroads that will reveal the true depth of the Government’s commitment to improving the lives of families on the lowest incomes. The cut, they say, would fundamentally undermine the Government’s avowed mission to level up.

The coalition includes Oxfam, Save the Children, the Trussell Trust, Business in the Community, the Royal College of Paediatricians, Child Health, Christians Against Poverty, Church Action on Poverty, Citizens UK, and the Salvation Army. It says that ending the payment would “be effectively the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since World War II” and would “pile unnecessary financial pressure on around 5.5 million families”.

Independent analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which organised the letter, suggests that the cut would push 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.

The Trussell Trust research was based on an online survey last month by YouGov of 2008 adults who are claiming Universal Credit. Ms Revie said that figures showed the “shocking consequences of what lies ahead if this lifeline is cut in October. No one should have to suffer the indignity of not being able to afford the essentials in life. That’s why we’re saying it would be wrong of the UK government to take away £20 a week from already precarious incomes and push even more people through the doors of foodbanks.”

She urged people to write to their MPs to support the campaign to retain the increase. “At the very least, we’re saying, this October, the UK Government must choose to protect people and choose to keep the lifeline.”

Families of some of the lowest-paid workers, such as hairdressers, shelf-stackers, and carers, will be among those facing the biggest fall in benefits income since 2010 if the cut goes ahead, new research for the children’s charity, Action for Children, suggests.

A survey commissioned from the Child Poverty Action Group of typical sole-earner families with two children in common low- to middle-income jobs found that hairdressers would lose an average of £1982 a year, followed by pharmacy assistants (£1946 loss), and shelf-fillers (£1843). Those workers have already lost an average of £750 a year because of social-security cuts in the past decade.

The director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said: “We welcome the Government’s levelling-up agenda, but you can’t level up the country by pushing down the living standards of some of the hardest-working families in the country.

“Too many childhoods are overshadowed by poverty and hardship, and the pandemic is making things worse. Our analysis shows the huge squeeze on incomes millions of working families will face at the end of this month. We’re talking about hairdressers, shop-workers, and carers — not big earners, but people who are proud to work and do everything they can to provide for their children.

“The Government needs to rethink its plan to cut Universal Credit: it’s a recipe for disaster for struggling families, and clashes with the end of the furlough scheme, when more parents will be at risk of losing their jobs, the extra costs of the school term, and a rise in energy bills as we head into the colder months.”

The survey is based on analysis of Office for National Statistics for employee earnings and government figures on Universal Credit claims.

The charity Action for Children was due to launch a campaign today, Star in Every Child, asking people to donate cash to buy gifts that can help make the lives of vulnerable children a little brighter, such as £5 for a trip out, or £40 to buy clothing and food.

In response to the letter from the coalition, a government spokesperson said: “The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary. It’s right that the Government should focus on our plan for jobs, supporting people back into work, and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”


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