Foodbank referrals soar in areas signed up to Universal Credit

Kathleen Neilly displays a basket of food at the Foodbank in Whitburn, West Lothian.
Kathleen Neilly displays a basket of food at the Foodbank in Whitburn, West Lothian.
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Areas of Scotland which have had full rollout of the controversial new benefits system Universal Credit have seen an increase in referrals for emergency food of almost double the national average, as the number of foodbank handouts overall hit record levels.

The number of emergency supply packages given out by foodbanks over the past year was enough to feed the population of Dundee for three days, according to new figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 foodbanks UK-wide.

East Lothian – which includes Musselburgh, the first Scottish area to adopt the Universal Credit system – reported the highest increase of foodbank use north of the Border at 34 per cent.

In North Ayrshire, however, the number of people using emergency food supplies slumped by 39 per cent.

The charity said its network of 52 Scottish foodbanks had provided 145,865 three-day emergency food packages to people in crisis – including 47,955 for children – during the 2016-17 financial year, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year. UK-wide, usage increased by 6.64 per cent.

The Trussell Trust said that the increase was more significant in areas where the Universal Credit rollout had been completed, with an average rise of 16.85 per cent.

Universal Credit replaces multiple benefits paid separately with one payment.

Ewan Gurr, Scotland network manager for the Trussell Trust, said: “The discovery that foodbanks in Scotland gave out enough emergency food to feed the entire population of Dundee for three days is deeply worrying and the reasons underpinning this are just as concerning.

“Despite nine Scottish local authorities showing a decrease in foodbank use six months ago, it is clear that a cold Christmas, the rollout of Universal Credit and the ever-increasing pressure on the pockets of low-income individuals and families is yielding bitter outcomes.”

The organisation said that in such areas, foodbanks are providing food and support for longer than the standard two visits and warned its volunteers were being stretched.

It said people who are switched to Universal Credit typically wait for six weeks or more for an initial payment, leaving them with financial problems.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Reasons for food bank use are complex, so it’s misleading to link them to any one issue.

“Universal Credit is designed to mirror the world of work and give people control over their own finances.

“We work closely with local authorities to support those who need extra help.”