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Universal Credit is not enough to cover essentials, Trussell Trust warns

29 February 2024

The Bishop of Manchester was a signatory to the charity’s petition for change

Jess Hurd

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, is one of the signatories to the petition

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, is one of the signatories to the petition

MORE than half of the recipients of Universal Credit still do not have enough money for food, new research commissioned by the Trussell Trust suggests.

Together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the charity is urging politicians to support the introduction of an Essentials Guarantee, which would enshrine in law the principle that Universal Credit provides enough to cover the cost of the essentials such as food, utilities, and vital household goods. A petition calling for urgent action, signed by more than 150,000 people and supported by other charities including Barnardo’s, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Just Fair, and the Mental Health Foundation, was presented to the political parties in Westminster this week.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, who was a signatory, was part of the group presenting the petition.

The research, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust, suggested that 780,000 Universal Credit claimants (12 per cent) had been driven to use a foodbank during the previous month (December 2023/January 2024). More than half of those surveyed (55 per cent) ran out of food and could not afford more in the same period.

Furthermore, in the previous three months, 22 per cent of Universal Credit claimants reported being unable to cook hot food because they could not afford to use their oven or other utilities. Half (52 per cent) said that they were either behind on their bills and credit commitments or were finding it a constant struggle to keep up with them. The research found that 2.4 million claimaints (37 per cent) had fallen into debt because they could not keep up with essential bills. Two in five (42 per cent) reported being behind on one or more household bills.

One in four (26 per cent) reported missing an essential appointment, such as a medical one, or travelling to work, because they could not afford the cost of transport. In the same period, about 2.7 million people (42 per cent) had to skip meals to keep up with other essential costs, such as utilities or rent. Two in five (43 per cent) reported being unable to keep their home warm this winter.

The charities report that, from April, the £90 weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is £30 less than the weekly cost of essential items for a single person. The proposed Essentials Guarantee would be based on an independent recommendation, and reviewed regularly.

The charities are calling for the Chancellor to ensure greater support for people on the lowest incomes, including an extension to the Household Support Fund, in his spring Budget.

The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said that the research findings emphasised the “stark truth” about poverty in the UK. “When record numbers of people are being left with no option but to use a foodbank, it’s time to reassess the systems that should be there to support us all.

“The biggest driver of foodbank need is the failure of our social-security system to protect people from going without the essentials.”

Dr Walker said on Wednesday: “Essentials are how we describe those things it is not practicable for any individual or household to live without. Yet the current Universal Credit system contains no means of ensuring households have enough income to encompass them. This campaign simply wants to put that right.”

The head of church engagement at the Trussell Trust, the Revd Jessica Foster, paid tribute to the work of churches in running foodbanks, and urged them to continue their support of those experiencing poverty. “Churches are vital to our network of foodbanks, providing venues, donations, volunteers, prayers, and so much more,” she said.

“More than 12,000 churches across the UK are connected with a Trussell Trust foodbank, and we are so grateful for their compassionate support over many years. We also believe that churches, who take the call to make earth a little more like heaven, can be vital partners in ending the need for foodbanks.”

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