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Rise in demand, following Universal Credit says Dover Foodbank after Amber Rudd admission

By Sam Lennon

There was a 50-plus per cent rise in food bank demand after Universal Credit came in.

One local councillor has slammed the system as "steps away from the Victorian workhouse" and Dover Foodbank say the increase continues at nearly 25% year on year.

The organisation was responding to an admission by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd that the rise in demand may be linked to delays in payments.

Jonathan Wheeler: "Rise in demand virtually all down to Universal Credit
Jonathan Wheeler: "Rise in demand virtually all down to Universal Credit

Jonathan Wheeler, chairman of the Dover Foodbank management team, said: "At last but why did it take her so long to acknowledge it?

"Universal Credit has caused a massive step change in demand."

Universal Credit, new the catch-all benefits system, has been operating fully in Dover district since May 2017.

Mr Wheeler said that in the 12 months from then there was a 54% increase in demand because of delays in first payments of as much as six to eight weeks.

He said the rise had tailed off after May 2018 but there has still been a 24% year on year rise.

He added; "It has been virtually all down to Universal Credit.

"We have given the equivalent of three days of food to exactly 3,042 people in the last 12 months.

"The charity in charge of our Foodbank, the Trussell Trust, has been lobbying Parliament over this problem with Universal Credit.

"The periods of delay have improved but there is now still a minimum wait of five weeks."

Amber Rudd: "Challenges with Universal Credit." Picture: Chris Davey
Amber Rudd: "Challenges with Universal Credit." Picture: Chris Davey

Ms Rudd said in the House of Commons on Monday: "It is absolutely clear that 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 difficulty accessing their money early enough."

Ms Rudd insisted that changes had been made to give people more "freedom and security"

It is the first time a minister has made a link between the government's flagship but controversial benefits scheme and the use of food banks.

Peter Wallace, who has supported several Dovorians on Universal Credit, says it is a "traumatising, flawed and humiliating system."

Labour's Cllr Wallace has helped about 10 individuals and families needing UC over the last year.

Cllr Peter Wallace: "Universal Credit a few steps from the-Victorian workhouse"
Cllr Peter Wallace: "Universal Credit a few steps from the-Victorian workhouse"

The town and district councillor for Maxton, Elms Vale and Priory, said: "I believe the benefits system the Conservative government is introducing is only a few steps away from the Victorian workhouse.

"The poor are no longer treated like people with less money. They’re treated as lesser people.

"When I’ve supported people in Dover on Universal Credit they are normally working people, honest, hardworking, but trapped in a low paid job due to ill health, caring for a family member or having a part time or self-employed job.

"Universal Credit is humiliating. It doesn’t pay enough to live, people frequently get into debt to cover the basics, and it causes human misery."

He said of the rise in food bank use: "That is just the tip of the iceberg of a new level of crushing poverty in the UK."

The Trussell Trust, a poverty charity that is the UK's biggest network operator on food banks, found last year that referrals to its centres were 52% higher in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

It said that the minimum time for people to wait for first payments had to be shortened.

The charity operates eight foodbanks in Kent, also in Deal, Gravesend, Swanley, Medway, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Folkestone.

The Dover Foodbank covers Dover town and its neighbouring villages such as St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Lydden, Temple Ewell, River and Hougham.

The Department for Work and Pensions has said that it is increasing the amount people could initially earn on Universal Credit by £1,000.

It was also introducing £1 billion to help people move to this system from the old benefits one.

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