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Benefits help must stay say Stratford Foodbank

Stratford Foodbank is calling on the government to extend the £20 increase in universal credit payment beyond April, having experienced record numbers seeking help from the charity.

During 2020, the foodbank distributed 4,445 emergency food parcels, a 41 per cent increase year-on-year.

Worryingly there has been a large increase in emergency food going to children.

A £20 increase in universal credit has been in place during the pandemic, which is currently due to stop at the end of this financial year.

However, there have been reports in recent days that the chancellor may opt to extend it for another six months.

Stratford Foodbank manager Marion Homer said: “The £20 uplift to Universal Credit has been vital in protecting many families in the local area, but this lifeline is set to be cut in April. My fear is that will lead to us becoming busier, and our volunteers are, once again, being left to patch up the defects of a broken welfare system. No one should have to suffer the indignity of needing emergency food.

“It’s clear our benefits system is not providing enough for people to make ends meet, but it doesn’t have to be like this – by keeping this lifeline in the longer-term it should be possible to see a reduction in demand and put steps in place to create a hunger free future.“

Responding to the calls, Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi offered reassurance that the chancellor is planning to help families in the forthcoming budget.

He said: “The £20 uplift to Universal Credit was announced in March 2020 for the duration of the financial year. I welcome the added benefit it has brought to those individuals and families who have faced the most disruption and hardship over the past ten months due the pandemic.

“This uplift is just one of a range of measures put in place to support jobs and livelihoods as part of £280billion package throughout the course of the pandemic. The current uplift will run until the end of March. A decision on any extension beyond this will be announced at the Budget on 3rd March.

“Unfortunately I cannot pre-empt the contents of the Budget, but I know that the chancellor will be bringing forward a strong package to support families, businesses and jobs over the year ahead.”

Last month a motion by Labour calling on the government to extend the £20 Universal Credit uplift beyond March, was carried in Parliament, though most Conservative MPs abstained. The motion was not legally binding.

Earlier this month a report by the Trussell Trust, which runs Stratford Foodbank, concluded that should the £20 uplift be removed, one in five people would be ‘very likely’ to turn to a foodbank for help.

Food can be donated to Stratford Foodbank at collection points in shops and supermarkets around the area, while if you would like to make a financial contribution visit https://www.justgiving.com/stratforduponavon-foodbank.

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