As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, we are continuing to check in with a foodbank in an area which is currently transitioning to UC to see if there is any noticeable impact on the number of families with children using their services. We hear the first hand experiences of one of the foodbank’s staff, Linda.
Christmas is over and it was the busiest December Linda can remember.
“People were queuing for 30 minutes before we opened, but despite the circumstances, the mood over the holiday period was buoyant.”
Donations have been high and Linda is pleased with the level of support they have been able to provide. It’s not just the food that the clients appreciate, it’s the work of the volunteers that has helped keep spirits high.
“I can’t credit the volunteers enough,” says Linda. The work they put in, regardless of their own personal circumstances, is deeply felt. “The volunteers want everyone to feel good and leave in a good frame of mind.”
But there were difficult moments. Linda met a woman who has custody of her grandson as well as her own child. As she hadn’t been paid by UC yet, she had to explain to her children that this might not be the Christmas they were expecting. “She was trying to hide it from the children as best she could, but at the end of the day she had to sit down and explain to them that they weren’t going to get the same as everyone else.”
Now the decorations have been taken down, the festive spirit is dissipating as people are reminded of the reality of transitioning to UC. Over Christmas, two out of every five using the foodbank were UC claimants. Some who had not been paid at the start of December had still not been paid by Christmas week.
Linda says when people did receive money, some of this was paid early due to the Christmas bank holidays. But if their last payment was moved because of a bank holiday, they have to count four weeks from their usual payment date, which for some will mean stretching the same amount of money over a longer period of time.
As UC continues to make the headlines, the mood from the front line is one of frustration. MPs were due to vote on whether to move three million benefit claimants onto universal credit in the next few weeks, though this vote has now been pushed back and Parliament will instead be asked to vote on transferring just 10,000 people to the new benefits system instead.
“This vote isn’t news,” says Linda. “Yes we want things to change, but what should be in the headlines are the people who are on it now.”
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