Families put on universal credit have had to use food banks, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has admitted.
Ms Rudd said it was “absolutely clear” there had been issues with roll-out of the new all-in-one payment and said people being unable to access money “led to an increase in food bank use”.
Ministers have previously denied claims that the roll out of the controversial benefit reform had pushed some users into poverty.
But responding to questions in the Commons about universal credit and food insecurity, Ms Rudd told MPs: “We’re committed to a strong safety net where people need it.
“It’s absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out of universal credit and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulties accessing their money early enough.
“We have made changes to accessing universal credit so people can have advances, so there is a legacy run on after two weeks of housing benefit, and we believe that will help with food bank use.”
Questioning the Work and Pensions Secretary about research showing families on the new benefit struggling to feed their children, Labour MP Sharon Hodgson had warned Ms Rudd: “They’re telling me universal credit is making their situation worse not better.”
The troubled roll-out of universal credit has forced a series of government u-turns and interventions, most significantly in cutting the waiting time for initial payments from six weeks to five.
Two years ago, then junior work and pensions minister Damian Hinds said the government “do not expect” food bank use to increase due to universal credit. And last year, another junior minister in the department, Alok Sharma said there were “very many reasons” why food banks in areas where the benefit had been rolled were up to four times busier than average.
SNP MSP George Adam said Ms Rudd’s admission was “long overdue”.
“The Tories ‘flagship’ welfare policy simply isn’t working, and it’s now abundantly clear that the welfare cuts inflicted by the Tories on people across Scotland are directly forcing vulnerable people into poverty,” Mr Adam said. Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: “In 21st century Britain no-one should be dependent on charitable handouts for their survival, yet that is precisely the situation that government policy has created.”
Asked later whether Theresa May agreed with the Ms Rudd’s assessment of the impact of universal credit on food bank use, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster media briefing: “We have long acknowledged that there were issues with the initial rollout of universal credit. That’s why we have listened and made improvements, such as extending advances, removing waiting days and introducing housing benefit run-on.”