Published: 00:01, 18 June 2019
Cuts to benefits and the arrival of Universal Credit have been blamed for a 20% increase in the number of food parcels distributed by Canterbury Food Bank in the last year.
About 1,000 packages containing three days’ worth of emergency supplies were given to families in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay who struggled to make ends meet between January and March this year, compared to 825 over the same period in 2018.
The charity, which distributed a total of 3,500 food parcels between May 2018 and April 2019, fears these numbers could rise further still with more people due to move onto Universal Credit this summer as part of a “managed migration” planned by the government.
Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby says cuts to benefitsjobseeker’s allowance, child benefit, housing benefit, disability living allowance and other welfare benefits, coupled with the roll-out of the government’s flagship welfare reform, are the biggest single reason for people coming to the charity for help.
The Canterbury Food Bank trustee and social policy expert at the University of Kent said: “The situation is particularly worrying given the fact that Universal Credit has not been rolled out yet in this part of the world.
“We anticipate a major increase in demand when this happens, and expect that housing evictions for failure to pay rent will increase sharply too, as it has in pilot areas.”
Two fifths of parcels distributed by the food bank’s 100 volunteers last year were specialist parcels for children, containing milk, fruit juice cereals and other staples.
Universal Credit - which rolls six benefits into one single payment - was introduced for anyone claiming new benefits at the city’s Jobcentre last July, but the majority of claimants have yet to be transferred to the new system.
“Most people on benefits are on the old benefits, so we haven’t seen the real impact yet,” Professor Taylor-Gooby continued.
“Universal Credit is, in theory, a good idea. But the difficulty is that it has been brought in at a time when the government has decided to make really big cuts in the benefits system. That’s been going on since 2010 and that’s why we have got impoverishment.
“It relies on the computer system actually working, people understanding the system, and staff being trained. What the DWP are trying to do simultaneously is trying to cut the budget by a fifth, which is a huge amount.
“In the pilot areas, they have actually had extra resources. But they’re not doing this nationally. They can’t, they just don’t have the budget.
“What people don’t really pay attention to is the fact that all the previous benefits are being cut.
“We have cuts in place which will be increasing this year, and next year, regardless of Universal Credit. That makes it tougher and tougher.”
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