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A potted history: MPs denying that Universal Credit leads to foodbank rises

Amber Rudd’s admission this week brings to an end a long-running series of denials from government ministers

Amber Rudd

On Monday Amber Rudd’s admission that Universal Credit is driving foodbank use finally brings to an end a series of denials from government ministers that the two are linked.

Work and Pensions Secretary Rudd told the Commons that the controversial benefits system was “the main issue that led to an increase in foodbank use” to mark her more conciliatory stance towards its flaws.

The former Home Secretary was initially bullish in her new role, immediately slamming the “extremely political nature of the language” used by UN Special Rapporteur Dr Philip Alston in his damning report on UK poverty in November.

But since then she has bowed to some of the voices of dissent from charities, politicians and poverty groups, halting the roll-out of the managed migration stage and limiting it to a 10,000-strong trial as well as relaxing the two-child benefit cap.

Her latest climb down has been praised by Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee that called for benefit sanctions to be eased this week.

“At last, we have a Secretary of State who’s willing to have a much more open debate on the link that exists between Universal Credit and the need for food banks,” he said. “This needs to result in action which eliminates the lengthy wait for benefits to be paid.”

Foodbank charity The Trussell Trust has been placing the blame on Universal Credit for the rise in the number of parcels that they have been handing out for some time.

Last year it revealed a 13 per cent increase, reporting that they handed out 658,048 emergency supplies between April and September 2018 – up on the 580,949 handed out in the same period back in 2017.

At the time, The Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie was clear on what the cause was behind it. She said: “It’s not right that people are being forced to use foodbanks after weeks of waiting for Universal Credit payments.

“Foodbanks cannot continue to pick up the pieces – we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger.”

But her pleas have fallen on deaf ears up until now with ministers long-since denying that that was the case.

Employment Minister Alok Sharma incited shouts of “pathetic” in parliament when he refused to acknowledge the link in October last year.

“The parliamentary group on hunger did publish a detailed report on this and they concluded there are complex and myriad reasons for the use of foodbanks,” he told MPs. “It cannot be attributed to the single reason.”

Rudd’s predecessor Esther McVey has blamed the rising use of foodbanks on spiralling on rising personal debt under Labour as far back as in 2013 while the following year she said: “So many things come into play, as the people who run food banks say: understanding how to cook; prioritisation of bills; debt; and debit cards. So many things are tangled up with this issue.”

And another former DWP Minister Priti Patel described the reasons for people heading to foodbanks were “complex and overlapping” back in June 2015.

Rudd’s comments may now signal a change of approach from Westminster.

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