“Put simply, to avoid widespread food insecurity among claimants, all work and income-related benefits need to be made more generous.”
Last week the government announced a £500m household support fund, to be distributed by local authorities to households in need. But the scheme cannot make up for the loss of £20 per week, the academic said. “It’s a simple matter of maths.”
The number of people claiming universal credit is still well above pre-pandemic levels at around 5.5 million.
The study by Welfare at a (Social) Distance – a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council – drew on findings from a survey of more than 6,300 people claiming benefits between May and June this year.
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The government must scrap policies with well-documented links to food insecurity – such as the benefit cap and five-week wait for a first universal credit payment – if it is serious about improving people’s living standards, the researchers said.
People in debt to the Department for Work and Pensions after, for example, being paid more in benefits than the government said they were entitled to, were more likely to face food insecurity as deductions were taken off their state support.
Disabled people – many of whom are on legacy benefits such as income support and employment and support allowance – were also significantly more likely to have their diet choices limited by a lack of money.
But even after removing those repaying government debts from the data, more than half of benefit claimants repaid other kinds of debt in the last month.
“Inescapable debt repayments reduce the amount that people have to live on, and need to be taken into account in poverty measures,” said Dr Lisa Scullion, joint project lead from the University of Salford.
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A government spokesperson said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to universal credit and the furlough scheme were temporary.
“They were designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and they have done so.
“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”