Demand at Southwark’s foodbanks has surged due to waits of up to three months for people starting on Universal Credit to get their first payments, it has been claimed.
More than 4,000 Southwark residents have joined the Universal Credit system since it was introduced at the London Bridge and Peckham Job Centres in early 2016.
Southwark Council’s cabinet member for finance, Fiona Colley, said claimants have “dropped off a cliff” for periods of twelve to thirteen weeks, forcing them into rent arrears. The delays have also cost the council £3.8m in lost rent revenue.
Universal Credit (UC) – which groups six types of benefit into one payment – was touted as the Conservative Party’s big hitting welfare reform after they came to power in 2010.
Peckham’s Pecan foodbank’s executive director Chris Price said the number of referrals they received rose by seventeen per cent in the year 2016/17, and looks set to have risen by 33 per cent by the end of 2017/18. Offering a snapshot, Chris said that between April and July this year, the number of adults referred “due to benefit changes” went from 88 to 171. And the number of children referred due to benefit changes from 34 to 95.
Chris told the News: “Single people have become the largest group being referred, it used to be single-parent families. And a change in benefits has dramatically increased as the reason people are coming. Some of the stories we have been hearing from people are really harrowing.”
Apart from in Southwark, UC had only been applicable to single claimants in the rest of the UK. But on Monday, work and pensions secretary David Gauke, announced to the Tory Party Conference that UC will continue to be rolled to all new claimants, such as parents, disabled people, and those fleeing domestic violence. His decision was made despite warnings from prominent Conservative MP, Heidi Allen, who heard evidence from Cllr Colley that UC’s implementation had been beset by problems in Southwark.
Last Month, during a House of Commons Works and Pensions Select Committee meeting, Cllr Colley told Ms Allen: “We have over 4,000 tenants who have moved over to UC full-service.
“It’s had a range of impacts on the council and on residents. The most significant for us is how it has impacted rent arrears… That has dominated our experience.”
Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle said: “[The government] insists on rolling it out, and the biggest group moving onto it will be young families. And all that damage is to come in time for Christmas. London Bridge Job Centre was meant to be the testing ground for this before it goes to the rest of the country. So if the government can’t get it right in Southwark, then there’s a massive problem.”
A Department of Work & Pensions spokesman said: “UC lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes. It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.
“And it’s working. With UC, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.
“The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.”