The effect of Universal Credit on foodbanks (held jointly with the APPG on Foodbanks)
The APPG on Universal Credit is a cross-party group, which was established in order for Members of Parliament of all parties to be able to come together to discuss the experiences of their own constituents, to receive advice and support from various agencies, to share best practice at supporting constituents and monitor this critical policy as it is rolled out.
The APPG accepts the core aims of Universal Credit (UC) in simplifying the benefits system and making it easier for people to move into work. The reality of UC, however, does not live up to these good intentions. We are seriously concerned that the design of UC does not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of the poorest working age people in the UK, and that in its current form, UC does not work in their best interest.
On 13 December 2017, the APPG held an evidence session on the effect of UC on foodbanks, hearing from Child Poverty Action Group and Universal Credit claimants. The following parliamentarians were present: Co – Chairs Ruth George MP (Chair of the Universal Credit APPG) and Neil Coyle MP (Chair of the APPG on Foodbanks), Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Ian Mearns MP, Philippa Whitford MP. Also present:Aspire, Citizens Advice, North Paddington Foodbank, Pecan, Southwark Foodbank, Trussell Trust, Wandsworth Foodbank, Waterloo, Foodbank.
The APPG encourages agencies and claimants to continue to document and evidence problems with UC. They should then contact their MPs with this evidence. This will ensure the problems claimants are having with UC become routine, not just unique stories.
- CHILD POVERTY ACTION GROUP
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) works on behalf of the one in four children in the UK growing up in poverty. CPAG develop and campaign for policy solutions to end child poverty. They also provide information, training and advice to the people who work with hard-up families, to make sure they get the financial support they need and carry out high profile legal work to establish and confirm families’ rights.
CPAG have commissioned research which estimates 1 million children will be put into poverty as a consequence of UC. In addition, 900,000 children will be in extreme poverty.
Having used foodbanks during the waiting period for UC, claimants who request an advanced payment are subsequently returning to foodbanks as they have to pay back the debt.
There are problems with people moving from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to UC. A claimant should be transferred from the group they are in, in ESA, to the same group in UC. However, claimants are re-categorised as fit for work.
When a claimant becomes ill they remain in the fit for work group until they are assessed, and the outcome of their assessment is successful. This puts them at risk of being sanctioned if they cannot fulfil the fit for work conditionality.
UC does not work with claimants who have fluctuating wages – despite being introduced by the government to help people gain and sustain employment.
If there was only one thing to change about UC, it would be to reduce the waiting period for claimants’ initial payment. Even with the government’s concession to reduce it to 5 weeks as of next year it is still too long.
- UNIVERSAL CREDIT CLAIMANT – CLIFF CREED
I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April 2016.
After my statutory sick pay ran out I put in a joint claim with my wife for UC.
I am now 6 months behind on my mortgage re-payments, unable to get credit because I have such a low rating, my wife is signed off from work with stress and I even contemplated suicide.
In Christmas 2016, I swallowed my pride and took a foodbank parcel from my social worker.
Local DWP departments don’t authorise a claimant’s payments. Instead a UC claim is dealt with in different locations across the UK.
DWP are constantly changing the UC claim process. Claimants need to keep evidence and records of what has happened and who they have spoken to.
The DWP can change a historical payment. They cannot change a journal record.
UC should not be applied to people suffering cancer. Going on UC was like being told I had terminal cancer all over again.
- UNIVERSAL CREDIT CLAIMANT – DESMOND SAMSON
I have been employed for 9 years. After being made redundant I became self-employed. I was involved in a road accident and have been unable to work since 1994.
Initially I was in receipt of DLA & IS. In May 2017 I was moved from Income Support to UC.
I had no money for 8 weeks and asked the DWP for an advanced payment.
I asked the DWP to pay my Housing Benefit and Council Tax as they had always done to ensure it was paid. The DWP failed to pay the full amount as I also had to pay back my advanced payment. This contributed to subsequent rent arrears and eviction.
I began suffering from depression and alcoholism which led to the break-down of family relationships.
- CITZENS ADVICE ON BEHALF OF THEIR CLIENT
John has not attended the APPG today and we have been trying to contact him to find out why.
John was referred to us from the community mental health team.
While on UC he got a zero-hour job. His job coach didn’t make correct adjustments to his time sheet and his UC account was closed.
Once re-opened, John had to wait for 7 weeks for a payment. In addition, when it was paid his housing entitlement had not been included.
John had to wait another 15 weeks before he received his correct housing entitlement. However, the council said it is not enough to cover his full rent as it has been affected by the benefit cap. He had always kept up with rent prior to being on UC.
John has had bailiffs at the door demanding payment for council tax and his eviction is imminent. He has contemplated suicide.
EVIDENCE FROM PARLIAMENTARIANS AND FOODBANKS
The following concerns and recommendations were raised and made.
- IAN MEARNS MP
UC was rolled out in Gateshead in November 2017.
Landlords of UC claimants in Council properties have been more forgiving than private landlords about claimant payment problems.
Foodbanks have been effective, especially donations from football fans at Gateshead and Newcastle Utd.
Ian is chair of the APPG for Football Supporters. He is working with the Football Association to try and promote donations to foodbanks at matches more widely.
- NEIL COYLE MP
Not all claimants will be able to learn how to manage a digital application – 250,000 claimants with learning difficulties will be moving onto UC.
Every time the DWP requests the claimants get documentation from their GP. This places an extra financial burden on the NHS. It is approx. £60 for a GP appointment – the government were warned about these costs.
- RUTH GEORGE MP
Currently only 8% of people who are going to be on UC are receiving it.
If statistics are used to challenge the government on UC they will use statistics back. However, they cannot produce counter stories to challenge those like Cliff, John and Desmond.
- SOUTHWARK FOODBANK
In the previous 6 months there has been a 30% increase in the use of the Southwark Foodbank.
94% of those using the foodbank are doing so because of benefit changes.
Southwark Foodbank are collecting anonymised stories of UC claimants to evidence its problems.
- WANDSWORTH FOODBANK
The DWP is paying Wandsworth Council to provide digital support for UC claimants. However, the geographical area covered by the Job Centre doesn’t match that of the council. Therefore, in Lambeth, UC claimants do not have access to digital support to help them complete their application.
Claimants must have photo ID to claim UC. Not all claimants have access to these types documents. If a claimant does not have photo ID they have to get a fit note from their GP. This in turn puts added pressure on already overstretched GPs.
- WATERLOO FOODBANK
The DWP should write in plain English. Claimants receive multiple letters on the same issue.