Amber Rudd admits Universal Credit has caused surge in food bank use

Universal Credit has pushed more people to rely on food banks, the Welfare Secretary admitted today.

Amber Rudd said she accepted a link between soaring food bank use and the Government’s hated flagship benefit shake-up.

She told MPs that the difficulties in accessing cash could have been “the main issue” behind the surge in people going hungry.

The number of emergency food parcels handed out by the Trussell Trust charity has soared from 61,000 in 2010/11 to 1.3million last year.

It came as two influential anti-poverty MPs suggested that Ms Rudd was on the brink of making radical changes to Universal Credit .

Tory MP Heidi Allen and independent Labour MP Frank Field, who have launched a major investigation into food bank use, told the Mirror that her “legs are moving”.

Previously, senior Tories have refused to accept welfare changes were a factor in the rise – instead claiming there were several different causes.

Theresa May said in April 2017 there were “many complex reasons” why people used food banks.

Ms Rudd’s predecessor Esther McVey previously tried to blame the explosion on Labour, who she said “refused” to let Jobcentres signpost people to them before 2010.

Just four months ago a junior DWP minister, Alok Sharma, prompted shouts of “pathetic” as he insisted the rise could not be attributed to a single reason.

But Ms Rudd finally admitted to MPs: “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit.

“And the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.

“We have made changes to accessing Universal Credit so that people can have advances, so that there is a legacy run-on after two weeks, of housing benefit, and we believe that will help with food insecurity.”

The Welfare Secretary insisted things had improved since the initial rollout of the six-in-one welfare system.

The Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest foodbank network, has long insisted UC was behind a surge in demand at its outlets.

Chief executive Emma Revie said: “It’s promising to see the Secretary of State is listening to the evidence of food banks across the UK.

“We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other when help is most needed – our benefits system was created to do exactly this.

“But Universal Credit isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised.

“What we need now is action to address the reasons why Universal Credit has forced some people to food banks.”

People moving on to the benefit were until last year forced to wait six weeks for their first payment.

Even with the huge delay, a whopping 17% were not paid their full amount on time as of July last year.

The standard delay has since been cut to five weeks, which Ms Rudd has accepted despite campaigners warning it is still pushing people into poverty.

Ms Rudd also told MPs: “I have acknowledged the fact that people had difficulty accessing the money on time as one of the causes for the growth in food banks.

“But we have tried to address that and one of the principal ways of doing that is ensuring every applicant can have advance payments on the day that they apply.”

In an interview with the Mirror, veteran anti-poverty campaigner Mr Field predicted she would halt the roll-out of UC before the Government’s deadline of 2023.

“Amber has been burned by what happened at the Home Office. She ain’t going to be brought down again by what civil servants tell her about what is advisable,” he said.

“By all means the date is good cover but the Secretary of State’s legs are moving.”

Tory MPs Ms Allen, who voted for welfare cuts in 2015 but has campaigned against UC ever since, called for Ms Rudd to scrap the five week wait.

“It’s changing with Amber, which is why the timing of our investigation is so important.

“She clearly is listening. Now is particularly important timing-wise that we demonstrate what it’s like out there and that there are problems with the system,” she said.

“I want to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, so that the Government cannot ignore it any longer, the fundamental flaws of the welfare system that must be changed.”

Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday: “The Conservatives have now admitted that Universal Credit has left even more people reliant on food banks.

“So why haven’t they stopped the roll out?”

The PM’s official spokesman said: “We have long acknowledged that there were issues with the initial rollout of Universal Credit and that’s why we have listened and made improvements such as extending advances, removing waiting days and introducing housing benefit run-on.

“These changes are giving support to vulnerable people who need it most while at the same time helping people get into work faster.”

A DWP spokesman added: “We have always said that there are many reasons people use food banks and you cannot link to any one cause, we’ve responded quickly to the feedback we have had on UC and made numerous improvements.”

Last August the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched an internal study costing £217,000 to examine if welfare policies have prompted food bank use.

A source close to Ms Rudd said her comments were not linked to that study.

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