Concerns remain over universal credit in the region

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Marion Homer at Stratford Foodbank

More people than ever are now receiving universal credit in the West Midlands, though problems with the rollout of the benefit have been blamed for rocketing Foodbank use.

Earlier this month the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that 275,000 people across the region are now getting universal credit, with 3,566 of those recipients living within Stratford district.

Overall 2.7million people across the country are now receiving universal credit and the Government claims it is transforming people’s lives.

However the rollout has encountered problems over the past two years, with reports of delays experienced by claimants waiting for their first payment.

Stratford Foodbank manager Marion Homer believes this is one of the main reasons foodbank usage has significantly increased during that period.

Marion said: “The DWP statement on UC is of course reassuring. As a local Foodbank we are not in a position to comment on the experience of everyone who has moved onto this benefit. However, we can make observations based on what we hear our clients say, which is reinforced by research undertaken by our parent charity the Trussell Trust.

“We know from the experiences of many of our clients, that delays whilst being transferred to UC, means they often left with not enough money to cover the basics of life. In 2017, the year that UC was introduced in our area, we saw an increase in demand of over 62%, which, in the spring of that year, left our shelves the emptiest I have ever seen them.

“We believed this would be a short-term problem whilst the system settled in, but in 2018 we saw a further increase of 14%, and in 2019 a rise of 19%. It has become evident that something is not working.

“The Trussell Trust recently published ‘The State of Hunger’ report which provides robust statistical analysis confirming what our volunteers hear all the time – which is demand reflects real need. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us from being swept into poverty, but the main reasons people need emergency food parcels are because benefits are not covering the cost of living, combined with delays and changes to benefits payments.

“Stratford is not exempt from this situation. The fact that our town is showing an above average increase in food parcel demand -over five years demand has risen here by 100% compared to 75% nationally – appears to be linked to problems surrounding universal credit. We have had UC in our area longer than many other parts of the country.”

The Government says significant improvements have been made to universal credit over the past year, with the amount of money available to claimants to tide them over to their first payment increasing.

Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince said: “Universal Credit is a force for good and provides a vital safety net for people who are out of work or on low wages across the West Midlands.

“This Government believes that finding work is the best route towards prosperity and under Universal Credit more people are better off by moving into work faster and staying there for longer.”

Taj Singh, DWP Group Partnership Manager for the West Midlands added: “Unlike the old system, Universal Credit is a flexible benefit that can be tailored to an individual’s needs and circumstances.

“It is helping to transform lives right across the West Midlands, ensuring people have more control over their working lives and finances.”