AM’s debate increase in numbers receiving Universal Credit and using foodbanks

EVIDENCE from frontline food aid providers across the UK reveals that the rollout of Universal Credit is currently causing hardship for vulnerable people, and putting pressure on emergency food supplies.

Both the National Audit Office and The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network, which has seen a 52% average increase in foodbank use in areas after 12 months of full Universal Credit rollout, have raised concerns about increased pressure on frontline charities following the rollout of the new benefits system.

Carmarthenshire is among one of the areas where the new system has appeared to have caused more problems than it has solved.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Tuesday (Sep 18) at the Senedd Joyce Watson AM said that she had arranged a ‘poverty round table’ during the summer in Carmarthenshire where representatives of the Trussell Trust were present. She said: “There has been a 13% increase in the number of people in receipt of Universal Credit in Carmarthenshire. We all know 1 in 4 people falling into debt because they haven’t received their first payment on time and that 4 in 10 people struggle to pay council tax, rent and bills. Many have claimed that they have fallen into more debt due to the new system.”

Llanelli Food bank is one of the many in the UK who have seen an increase in the use of their services.

Opened in 2011, last year the food bank provided 3,084 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

Universal Credit is a monthly payment for people who are either unemployed or low income workers. It also includes financial support for sickness, disability, housing and children.

Businesses, unions and charities have been demanding a rethink of how Universal Credit works, claiming that it might cost some self-employed people large sums of money each year whilst damaging entrepreneurship.

Growing pressure: Food banks

In February 2018, Llanelli MP Nia Griffith highlighted that Universal Credit is ‘a problem for us all’ and that there should be a ‘real living wage’.

She said: “The truth is that the taxpayer is very often subsidising the low wages of employers, some of whom are corporate giants off-shoring profits.

Call for a real ‘living wage’: Nia Grifith MP

“That’s why we need a real living wage – one that people can actually live on and is paid not just to the over-25s but to workers from the age of 18. That is the real way to make work pay, which is supposed to be part of the rationale of Universal Credit.”

She continued: “So let’s put Universal Credit in context… a context of cuts that have seen an unprecedented growth in the use of food banks. These cuts have not just harmed families, but also the wider local economy.”

Yesterday, Tuesday (Sep 18) Joyce Watson questioned the First Minister Carwyn Jones on what Labour was doing about universal credit in Wales.

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She asked: “What assessment has the Welsh Government made with universal credit in Wales?

Backing the new system: First Minister Carwyn Jones

The FM responded: “The UK Government is persisting with its rollout and the national findings on universal credit. I highlight many issues which we have raised with the UK government.”

Joyce Watson AM then said that demand for food parcels has increased by 52%.

She continued to say: “Disability rights UK said  ‘given the dire state of the universal credit system we find it beyond belief, that a responsible Government would intend carry on migrating people into a system which clearly doesn’t work’.

Questioning what Welsh Government are doing to support her constituents: Joyce Watson AM

She continued: “What in the meantime is the Welsh Government doing to support my constituents who are in receipt of universal credit and those who find themselves in that situation shortly?”

The First Minister replied: “We remain committed to make sure the most vulnerable people in our society have access to free and independent advice on social welfare law issues, including debt, welfare and money management through our financial inclusion work.

“We provide around £6 million a year which is used to fund projects which deliver advice services within all 22 of our local authority areas.

“We know that funding is making a difference to people’s lives. During last year between April 2017 and March 2018 of last year, a report showed that over 73,000 people were helped with access to over 53 million pounds of welfare benefit in government for people supported.

“I know that universal credit advice events have taken place across several areas around Wales.”

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