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Universal Credit must always cover basics, Trussell Trust argues

28 June 2023


People queue at a foodbank in Newham, east London, last November

People queue at a foodbank in Newham, east London, last November

THE Government is being urged to set a legally binding lower minimum for Universal Credit payments, to ensure that essential items, such as food and bills, are always covered.

The call for an “Essentials Guarantee” by the Trussell Trust national foodbank charity and the social-policy-campaigning Joseph Rowntree Foundation, comes as new research suggests that minority groups are disproportionately at risk of facing hunger.

The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “Nobody in the UK should face hunger. That is why research like this is so vital. It provides the evidence we need to be able to change systems, policies, and practices, so that no one is left unable to afford the essentials. We know that if all of us work together, we can end the need for foodbanks. It’s time to guarantee our essentials and create a roadmap to solve this, once and for all.”

Under the proposals, the Essentials Guarantee level would be set independently and reviewed regularly. Any benefit reductions, such as debt repayments to the Government, or because a claimant has reached the benefit cap, should not take support below that level.

The survey, Hunger in the UK, published on Wednesday by the Trussell Trust, questioned 2563 people using 99 of its foodbanks last summer. It found that most of those who were experiencing hunger (82 per cent), and who had been referred to foodbanks in the Trussell Trust network (90 per cent), were in debt, compared with 52 per cent of the general population.

Almost half (47 per cent) of those referred to foodbanks were repaying debts to local or national government through their benefits for previous advances; benefit overpayment; Department of Work and Pensions loans; or other debts and fines.

In all, one in seven respondents (14 per cent) experienced hunger because they did not have enough money, equating to about 11.3 million people — more than double the population of Scotland.

The research showed that certain groups were more likely to experience hunger than others. They included: disabled people; families with children (especially single parents); carers; people who had spent time in the care system; LGBTQ+ and ethnic minority communities; single adults living alone; and people who had had adverse life experiences, such as a bereavement or domestic abuse.

Three-quarters of foodbank users surveyed were either disabled or had someone disabled in their household — almost three times higher than the percentage in the national population.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of the households experiencing hunger included children aged under 16, compared with 29 per cent of families in the general population. Single adults living with children make up just three per cent of the population — but 11 per cent of people experiencing hunger.

One in four people from an ethnic-minority background faced hunger — almost twice the rate for white people; and more than one quarter (27 per cent) of people who are LGBTQ+ experienced hunger, compared with 13 per cent of people who are heterosexual.

Nearly one quarter (23 per cent) of people caring for a dependent faced hunger, compared with 12 per cent of non-carers; and the majority (66 per cent) of people referred to foodbanks had experienced one or more adverse life experiences in the past year — compared with 26 per cent on average around the UK.

Ms Revie said: “Being forced to turn to a foodbank to feed your family is a horrifying reality for too many people in the UK, but, as Hunger in the UK shows, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Millions more people are struggling with hunger. This is not right.

“Foodbanks are not the answer when people are going without the essentials in one of the richest economies in the world. We need a social-security system which provides protection and the dignity for people to cover their own essentials, such as food and bills.”

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