Tackle benefit issues or foodbanks could struggle to meet demand, charity warns
Foodbanks could struggle to meet demand this winter unless urgent action is taken to improve Universal Credit (UC), the Government is being warned.
The Trussell Trust said it was on course to deliver a record number of food parcels from its 428 foodbanks across the UK during the current financial year.
The charity revealed it has distributed 586,907 emergency supplies in the six months to September, over 67,000 more than during the same period last year.
More than 200,000 supplies went to children, while on average, during the past year, people needed around two parcels each.
Foodbanks in areas in which UC has been rolled out for at least six months have seen a 30% increase in demand compared to the year before.
The Trust said the six-week wait for UC should be cut as a matter of urgency. Administration of the benefit needs to be improved, while the Government should reassess the freeze on benefit levels, the Trust said.
Interim chief executive Mark Ward said: "We're seeing soaring demand at foodbanks across the UK. Our network is working hard to stop people going hungry but the simple truth is that even with the enormous generosity of our donors and volunteers we're concerned that foodbanks could struggle to meet demand this winter if critical changes to benefit delivery are not made now."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The reasons for food bank use are wide and complex, and for this report to link it to any one issue would be misleading.
"We're clear that advance payments are widely available from the start of anyone's UC claim, and urgent cases are fast-tracked so no-one should be without funds. We know the majority of UC claimants are confident in managing their money. Budgeting support and direct rent payments to landlords are also available to those who need them."
Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "The shocking 30% increase in foodbank use in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out is further evidence of the desperate need for a pause to the programme while it is fixed.
"As well as foodbank use, the six week wait for support and cuts to the programme are also driving debt, arrears and even evictions. The social security system is supposed to prevent people from going hungry and getting into debt, not make these problems worse."
Oxfam's head of UK poverty, Rachael Orr, said: "These figures are shocking but worryingly they are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Oxfam works with many more independent foodbanks who are seeing a similar rise.
"We are increasingly concerned that the way Universal Credit is being rolled out is causing unnecessary hardship. The Government needs to urgently rethink and cut the six-week wait."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "Figures on foodbank use in Britain are utterly shocking. Many households in the UK are just one crisis away from needing assistance of this kind. It is a scandal that in 21st century Britain we have need of them at all.
"I am grateful for the tens of thousands of incredible volunteers - many of them Christians, but not exclusively - who give their time to ensure those who are hungry are helped.
"There is now a network of approximately 2,000 foodbanks right across the United Kingdom. There are collection points in many churches, and baskets and boxes in most supermarkets encouraging people to donate.
"We must strive to ensure that foodbanks do not simply become a staple necessity, and consider how we can help those in real poverty move to a better place in their lives."