All Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit SGM and joint session with APPG for ending the need for food banks.
Tuesday 9th February 2021 1:30pm – 3:00pm Zoom
Save the children
The Trussell Trust
Toynbee Hall –
A charity based in east London exploring the impact of covid –19 on “at risk” communities. Speaking with 17 peer researchers ages 17-30yrs.
1. Lost income and increased expenditure: Nearly half of interviewees say their income has reduced as a result of the pandemic. Many are spending more on phone, internet & electricity. A large number of them are spending more on food & groceries.
- More people go for bulk buy, either because of concerns around supplies, or in an attempt to reduce trips to the supermarket and risk of catching the virus.
- In families where everyone is at home all of the time, more food is needed.
- Children bored and frustrated being stuck at home, sometimes leading them to eat more or snack more.
- Stress and depression in young people may also have been a factor.
2. Coping with income loss:
- Some people found extra work, others used savings (28%) or borrowed. Interviewees also described careful budgeting but the majority still described ‘going without’.
- Support given by community members in terms of food and shopping for food.
- Families also had to adjust to cheaper food – difficult for the children to understand, especially when they could taste the difference, and didn’t enjoy the food they had.
3. Powerlessness and worry about the unknown: Quote here shows, participants described the powerlessness of not knowing if they will be able to cope financially, and worried about how these difficulties are shaping their children’s lives.
1. The shame families feel when they cannot cope financially is damaging their sense of self-worth:
Applying for emergency support through grants or food banks has been a lifeline, but one accompanied by shame and low self-worth. One interviewee said that it “killed their dignity” to have to go through someone they recognised in to apply for a hardship fund at their local council. Another described going for an overdraft facility rather than asking for support in order to “cover their shame”.
2. Strain across households for young private renters: Several young private renters in their twenties experienced income loss through furlough, loss of freelance work, zero-hours employment, or redundancy. Income has at times been lost across all rent-payers in a household, creating shortfalls for the overall rent. Some young private renters are having to cover shortfalls for their fellow housemates. Our 2019 private renting peer research project found 57% of young private renters in East London were already spending more than half of their income on their rent alone, leaving them little disposable income to cover the rent of their housemates.”
3. Extra financial pressure on diasporic communities: Some people from Black, Caribbean and Bangladeshi backgrounds told us that they were providing (or anticipating providing) financial support to worse-off family members or friends. These people were in low paid, casual work, and one had lost their main form of income completely. While this provides an extra layer of support for individuals, especially those with No Recourse to Public Funds, this personal income loss can have a ricochet effect on the finances of their wider community.
4. No recourse to public funds: Many relied on their networks for financial support before the pandemic; but all these have changed. One person, for example, talked about how they struggle with the loss of support in these quotes here.
“Some of my friends, they’re gonna tell me I can’t give you this month because I have no income. Ah, a lot of the time they can’t come to my home, they couldn’t provide any food and a lot of that time I am hungry.”
“So I am suffering for food, clothes, things, sleeping, bathroom, shower, everything, but no one can understand.”
5. The dual impact of internet access on finances:
- Internet access has been a significant extra cost at a time of financial strain.
- A number of families with children at home either had inadequate internet to meet their needs during the crisis, or had to cut costs elsewhere to pay for better internet that did meet their needs.
- Greater sense of control over their finances.
- Internet connection was clearly beneficial for financial health. Can easily pay bills and keep track of their balance through online banking, order shopping online and cheaply contact family abroad, avoiding expensive phone bills.
Thegovernment should put in place a Minimum Income Guarantee
The government should make sure that everyone receives enough to live on after they have paid their housing costs
Too many people are falling through the cracks e.g. the self-employed, freelancers and zero hours workers.
A simpler system that creates a true safety net for everyone.
Keeping £20 increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, and
Extending it to legacy benefits is the minimum that should be done to help people survive the pandemic. It will create certainty over weekly budgets, and will help avoid a mental health crisis amongst badly impacted communities.
Employment support that is good for wellbeing: Long term unemployment lies ahead for many, and support needs to be about helping jobseekers to learn new skills and overcome barriers to work. We favour a mentorship model of employment support.
Jobs need to be created in key sectors: We think the government should invest in jobs that are for the public good, such as mental health services and the green economy.
Low-income households must have affordable internet access at home: Digital partnerships between telecoms companies, local authorities and housing providers could achieve this.
Finally, from our interviews it’s clear that people want to live in places that have healthy food systems. They want healthy emergency food parcels and co-ordinated food redistribution. They also want space to grow food.
- During the pandemic the number of emergency food parcels went up from 1,112,395 in 2015-2016 to 1,900,122 in 2019.
- Hunger in the UK is driven by people not having enough money to pay for essentials
- 95% of people referred to food banks are destitute meaning they cannot afford the essentials we all need in life.
- Going into the pandemic we knew that low levels of benefit income were a key factor driving this.
- The majority of people at food banks are on Universal Credit – which means it has a key role in tackling food bank use.
Why the £20 uplift to universal credit matters:
- Researchconducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust shows the £20 uplift meant 72% of people on UC since early 2020 saying the increase to UC has made buying essentials easier.
- One in five people claiming UC say they are very likely to need to turn to a food bank if the uplift is removed. This represents over a million people.
- 41% people claiming UC are very likely to cut back on food if the uplift is removed.
(63%) people claiming UC feel they will be very likely to need to cut back on clothes for themselves.
- (36%) fear they will be very likely to cut back on heating their home.
- would be a vital first step in creating a benefits system which gives everyone enough to pay for the essentials.
- We estimate that if this uplift had been implemented in 2019/20 it would have reduced the number of emergency food parcels distributed by over 280,000.
- If these measures were introduced, and extended to legacy benefits it is likely that need for food banks would reduce by around a third.
Save the Children
Child food poverty has become a major issue through the pandemic – so struggling parents not being able to afford the food they need, often getting by with very little themselves to ensure their children have enough to eat and / or using foodbanks. This causes a lot of stress and worry for children, young people, and parents alike.
Our report with the Joseph Roundtree Foundation published after the first lockdown points to this – it that 7 in 10 parents on low incomes were cutting back on essentials, with 50% cutting back on food.
This issue continued: research we carried out after restrictions had eased showed that 32% had cut back on food during August and September, and 22% had used a foodbank.
But as Tom says, this isn’t a new problem, and it didn’t start with the pandemic. For a long time, parents on low incomes have struggled to make ends meet – and this shows up in increased foodbank usage, and parents cutting the weekly food budget because as it’s the only thing left to cut.
Universal Credit and the legacy benefit system can play a vital role in ensuring that parents on a low wage and those who can’t work have enough money to feed their children (and afford all the other costs that come with raising a little one), but cuts and freezes to social security over several years has left family incomes at an all-time low.
That’s why the £20 p/w increase to Universal Credit announced last March was such a welcome step from the UK government. It’s not going to completely solve the problem (research we’ve done says that parents are still having to skip meals), but it’s been vital in ensuring families have a bit of extra money to spend on food – parents we campaign with say that £20 pw is their weekly food budget, and nearly half of the parents we surveyed said they’ve used it to pay for food.
It’s clear if the £20 uplift is taken away, parents would be less able to afford the food they need and would increasingly turn to foodbanks for support. Therefore, the increase should be made permanent – to prevent the need for support from foodbanks becoming an even bigger problem – and extended to the legacy benefits system. At a minimum it should be extended by at least a year.
Rebecca, Parent Campaigner
“My name is Rebecca. I’m a single mother to an 8 year old daughter. I work 14 hours a week. I am also on Universal Credit. I was moved onto Universal Credit in 2019 in error. My life has been a constant source of stress and anxiety and difficulty ever since.
Many people on Universal Credit are in the same position. They are working, they are studying, they are caring for children and still they cannot make ends meet.
Our children are starving, our hearts are sinking every time we turn up the heating and yet we are working and contributing to society just as everyone else is.”
“In 2019, our first year on UC we literally had no money for food. I put a post up on a local facebook page asking where I could safely take my 7 year old for free meals, the same places where people who are street homeless would go. Imagine that. Imagine, working, having your own business and being on a social security benefit but being so poor that you may have to go and get food where the street homeless do.
The first time we accessed a food bank was in 2013 when my daughter and I were homeless due to domestic abuse. Back then you were only allowed 4 parcels in a year and that was seen as plenty. Fast forward to 2019, we were moved onto UC in March, by October I started receiving two weekly food parcels. Not one, but two. Not four times a year but weekly.
In the space of 6 short years food banks had gone from something not well known where you go if you are in high crisis. To 2019 where they are ubiquitous and must be used twice weekly just to get enough food to eat. Surely this is a sign that the system is broken, if something that is supposed to be a one off crisis support is actually many people’s main source of food. This is the Great Britain we live in today.
Food banks and food poverty have become so normalised that in a recent email from my school I was told, “FSM vouchers won’t be given during half term but you can get food parcels from the two local churches or the centre that organises activities in the school holidays.”
In 2020, when the world was in a global pandemic, jobs were lost and children left wanting £4,118.23 was taken from my payments under the guise of debts. Yet the government are considering scrapping the £20 a week lifeline. That’s a further £1040 a year I’d stand to lose. In October 2020 I only got £450, without the uplift that would have been £330. My rent is £340 a month alone. Just think about that. My rent even at the highest rate of pay is half my income from Universal Credit.
I strongly advise the government keep the £20 a week lifeline, if only as a bandaid to the wider systemic problems inherent in UC. It is demonstrably cruel to take money from society’s most vulnerable at a time like this. I am here today to tell you that I’m not a greedy or lazy person. I’m not frittering my money away on even the most basic of luxuries like warm clothing. I’m here asking the government for some safety, some security, for the very bare minimum to keep myself and my daughter warm, clothed, housed and fed. I don’t think that’s too much to ask and I don’t think the government in good conscience can deny us this.”