Foodbank Crisis: Devastating impact of Universal Credit

Kirkcaldy Foodbank has seen a worrying rise in the number of people using the facility for the first time, and there are fears that it could be about to get even worse.
The direct impact of government cuts is being felt.The direct impact of government cuts is being felt.
The direct impact of government cuts is being felt.

New clients made up 19 per cent of the total foodbank users for June – that’s 135 newcomers who were forced to use the service.

The alarming figures were laid bare in a report given to the board of the foodbank which details how the Kirkcaldy facility fared in June.

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Marie Penman.Marie Penman.
Marie Penman.
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Benefit issues, which includes delay in payment, sanctions and changes to benefits, is the reason given by 54 per cent of clients.

Over one third of the people receiving food from Kirkcaldy Foodbank are children.

And it is feared that the figures for July could be even worse, as many poverty-stricken families struggle to feed their children during the summer holidays.

Marie Penman, of Kirkcaldy Foodbank, said the introduction of Universal Credit was undoubtedly having an impact.

She said: “What we noticed is we had the highest ever number of people attending for the first time, and this was put down to Universal Credit coming in.

“We’ve had a lot of people telling us that when Universal Credit comes in, there’s a five-to-six week delay until payment comes through, so they’re without benefits in that time.

“During that time they go into rent arears, so they get given a discretionary housing payment.

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“But as soon as Universal Credit goes into their account, the rent arrears get deducted.

“They’re often taking it back at 40 per cent a week, which leaves people with very little.

“We had a guy in last week who was expected to live on £25 a week, and obviously couldn’t do it.

“This is a direct impact of government cuts.

“You hear some folk saying that ‘it’s just a matter of people getting their priorities wrong’.

“They think people get enough money to live on but just spend it on the wrong things and choose not to buy food.

“But that’s absolutely not the case.

“We’re seeing people coming through the doors, people who are getting arrears deducted at 20 or 40 per cent rates, and you can’t possibly live on that.

“The £72 jobseekers allowance is the minimum you’re supposed to need to live on, and if they suddenly take 40% off the top of that then it’s impossible for you to live.

“The people coming through the doors, it’s not their fault. It’s the system, because they’ve been switched to Universal Credit, which they didn’t want to do anyway.

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“It’s not about people mismanaging their money or not being very good with cash. It’s about them being punished by a system that isn’t working.

“The system is a failure and that’s what we’re seeing from people coming in.

“The huge increase in first-time clients, who are mortified to be there and are genuinely embarrassed to come and ask for help.

“People are living on nothing because the system is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

“I would challenge anyone else to live on that money, because I certainly couldn’t.”