15th November 2018

Universal Credit: Heating or eating

Chris Thompson
Children’s Writer

As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, over the coming months we will be checking in regularly with a foodbank in an area which is currently transitioning to Universal Credit to see if there is any noticeable impact on the number of families with children using their services. We will hear the first hand experiences of one of the foodbank’s members of staff.

Heating or eating

“It sounds glib, but it’s the reality,” Linda tells me as we catch up for the second time since Universal Credit started rolling out in her area.

Since our last conversation, the organisation for whom she works has published its six monthly figures. They paint a troubling picture. On a national level, between April and September this year, they have seen a 13% increase in visits compared to the same time last year. Locally though, it’s worse. In Linda’s area the increase is 28.9%.

So in Linda’s foodbank, they have fed 5324 people between September and April this year – 2003 of them children.

“This is supposed to be our quiet time of year, and around now we’re usually prepping for our busiest time.” But this trend seems to be bucking. According to Linda, it’s down to a range of factors.

“There’s the continued problem of benefits payments. If someone has a change in circumstance or is starting a new claim, it takes a long time to process. And the basic benefit payment no longer provides a standard of living.”

And with Christmas approaching this a real concern.

“We all spend more than we’ve got at Christmas. But when people have nothing they end up with facing a choice between heating or eating.

“They’re struggling to feed their families, and understandably at Christmas they want to give their children what everyone else has got – but it’s not gonna happen.”

[Linda says] this can mean people resorting to loan sharks or defaulting on other payments because they want to feed their children.

With UC looming large on the horizon, she anticipates additional problems over what is already their busiest period. If people have to wait 5-7 weeks for a claim to be processed, they will be without money during the entire run up to Christmas and beyond.

“The most frustrating thing for people is that you’ve got to apply online; there are lots of people who can’t do it. Libraries have computers, but the assumption that people can walk in and do this isn’t right. Not everyone has those skills.”

, , But the community is rallying round. They have seen a 12% increase in donations, and thereis a national campaign with a large supermarket coming up. Even so, Linda still anticipates theywill have more going out than coming in.

And there have been visits from school groups who have been collecting and learning about foodbanks. The compassion of their younger collectors is touching.

“Children are worried how people will feed their pets. And kids often donate a lot of advent calendars. It’s something every child wants.”

More blog posts from our series on Universal Credit

Previous post: 1 November 2018 – Let’s be ready

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