Universal Credit – “Children are going hungry. It’s not a myth, it’s a fact.”
As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, we have been checking in regularly with a foodbank in an area which is transitioning to UC to see if there has been any noticeable impact on the number of families with children using their services. In our final instalment of this series, Linda, who runs a food bank in a Northern city, reflects on the last six months and the future that lies ahead for children and families on UC.
This is the first time we’ve spoken to Linda since the Department for Work and Pensions took out a four-page “advertisement feature” in the Metro.
“They called it ‘Universal Credit Uncovered’”, Linda tells me. “It made me very cross because they said they were setting the record straight and dispelling the myths. But the fact is the 5 week wait is longer than 5 weeks.
“A woman visited us yesterday who has been waiting 8 weeks and still doesn’t have a date for the first payment. She’s in debt and can’t make a payment plan with creditors because she doesn’t know when she will have money coming in.”
This individual story illuminates some troubling statistics.
Nationally, Linda’s organisation has seen a 13% increase in foodbank use. On a local level, the city where Linda works where UC has been rolling out, has seen an increase of 30%.
Looking back over the last 6 months, Linda believes the increase in foodbank usage is due to UC.
“For every person who comes to us, we collect data on why they are here. And Universal Credit is the main reason. We are left dealing with this extra influx because people have nowhere else to go.”
“We’ve heard of people with disabilities who are disputing their claims waiting 50 weeks for an appeal date. We don’t want people to be dependent on us, but they have no choice.”
And there’s no doubt in Linda’s mind how UC is affecting children. In fact, single people with children are the most over represented cohort in her foodbank users.
But there’s also a hidden impact of UC beyond the waiting times.
“33% of people come in because their benefits don’t cover the basic costs of living. People are ticking ‘low income’ on their referral forms, but they are already on UC, so even when they do get on, it’s not enough.”
“This has become acceptable. But it shouldn’t be what’s going on.”
So looking ahead, what does Linda want to see happen?
“The most urgent thing is to stop the 5 week wait. The advance payment the DWP advertise is in fact a loan that you have to pay off across subsequent payments. So people are starting off in debt.”
“And stopping the benefit cap will take children out of poverty, there is no doubt about it.”
While the DWP is seeking to change public perceptions with its UC myth-busting adverts, over the last six months we have heard contradictory stories from the lived experiences of vulnerable families.
And Linda’s final thought?
“This is a job that we’d like there to be no need for. But children are going hungry. It’s not a myth – it’s a fact.”
More blog posts from our series on Universal Credit
Latest News from
Anne Longfield responds to the Government’s announcement on knife crime15/07/2019 16:33:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England yesterday responded to the Government’s announcement on knife crime.
Multi-billion pound tax cut promises from Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt should instead go on mending broken childhoods04/07/2019 13:47:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, will today (Thursday) launch her third annual Vulnerability Report with a call on the next Prime Minister to put the billions they have promised for income and corporation tax cuts towards mending broken childhoods.
The paralysis currently affecting much of Whitehall and Westminster is letting down Children in Need17/06/2019 16:12:00
Today’s Children in Need (CiN) review is important for two reasons. Firstly, it shines a light on the hundreds of thousands of children in England who are growing up in need, supporting the argument I have been making since I became Children’s Commissioner that identifying vulnerability in children is essential if we are to improve outcomes for those who are being held back, or worse, completely failed.
New report suggests significant group of children are being denied advocacy despite having a statutory entitlement to it13/06/2019 14:51:00
This year marks the 30th anniversary of two significant breakthroughs in children’s rights legislation: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989.
Too many vulnerable young children are missing out on the vital speech and language help they need to get ready for school11/06/2019 17:05:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday) publishing a new report “We need to talk: Access to speech and language therapy“, which shines a light on spending on speech and language therapy services (SLT) for children across the country to help identify where children who need support are falling through the gaps.
The first step in redressing the balance of power between children and the tech giants28/05/2019 15:10:00
This year marks two important anniversaries: it is thirty years since the creation of the World Wide Web, and of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many vulnerable children with learning disabilities are stuck in mental health hospitals for too long in poor conditions21/05/2019 09:20:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, yesterday published a new report, ‘Far less than they deserve: Children with learning disabilities or autism living in mental health hospitals’.
The World Wide Web at 30: Re-imagining a web built for children20/05/2019 13:20:00
Between 9 – 10 May, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, hosted a conference on children’s digital rights at BBC Salford for ENOC – the network of Children’s Commissioners and Ombudsmen from all over Europe.
Almost 1,500 children in England are locked up by the state at a cost of a third of a billion a year16/05/2019 16:05:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today publishing a report shining a light on the hundreds of children in England who are locked up in institutions across the country.