Foodbank charity Trussell Trust gave out a record 1.6m parcels in a year

Once again, Universal Credit and the five-week wait for a first payment are being blamed for this year’s 19 per cent increase – but how long until the warnings are heard?

The Trussell Trust foodbank network gave out a record 1.6 million parcels between April 2018 and March this year – up almost a fifth on the charity’s last count.

More than half a million of the 1,583,669 three-day emergency packages went to children and the Trust has outlined familiar reasons for the overall rise.

Chief executive Emma Revie has pinned the blame on Universal Credit’s five-week wait and the benefit freeze – outlining that a third of people needing emergency food received benefits that didn’t cover their living costs.

Moving on to the controversial benefits system has been a key driver of increasing need with almost half of foodbank referrals made because of a delay in benefits could be out down to Universal Credit.

But this is nothing new – the Trussell Trust has warned the government three times in the last year that Universal Credit and the wait to receive a first payment is pushing people deeper into poverty. And with the benefits freeze coming into its final year, the money that claimants receive has not kept up with inflation leaving them unable to cover the rising costs of daily essentials including food.

Those calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“What we are seeing year-upon-year is more and more people struggling to eat because they simply cannot afford food. This is not right,” said Revie.

“Enough is enough. We know this situation can be fixed – that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a foodbank.

“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. As a priority, we’re urging the government to end the wait for Universal Credit to ease the pressure on thousands of households.

“Ultimately, it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place. No charity can replace the dignity of having financial security.”

The Trussell Trust are not the lone voice urging a rethink. UN Special Rapporteur of Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Dr Philip Alston’s visit to UK foodbanks triggered a similarly damning response. Frank Field MP has also spoken out against Universal Credit in his role as Work and Pensions Committee chair, he said: ““It is an alarming sign that the Trussell Trust and so many other voluntary organisations have had to step into the breach and feed so many hundreds of thousands of hungry families, as so-called welfare reforms unravel our social safety net.

“Equally troubling is that the Trust has become a frequent, though incredibly valuable, contributor to multiple strands of our inquiries into Universal Credit and the unholy trinity of debt, homelessness and hunger that now stalks the land.”

But in the face of the tales of desperation and hardship off the back of welfare forms that have made foodbanks the norm for so many, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has stood firm. Although there have been tweaks to Universal Credit in her six-month tenure, problems still remain and the DWP response to the Trussell Trust figures has been bullish.

“It is not true to say that people need to wait five weeks for their first payment. Universal Credit is available to claimants on day one,” said a DWP spokesperson.

“It also cannot be claimed that Universal Credit is driving the overall use of foodbanks or that benefit changes and delays are driving growth.

“The Trust’s own analysis shows a substantial fall in the share of parcels being issued due to benefit payment delays.

“The best route out of poverty is to help people into sustainable employment which, with record employment, we are doing.”

Meanwhile, the Children’s Future Food Inquiry will deliver their final report into child food poverty to Westminster today with actor Emma Thompson leading the calls for an independent watchdog to tackle the problem.