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
Keeping kids safe, Anne Longfield’s article for the Huffington Post17/01/2020 13:25:00
This week’s publication of the inquiry into the catastrophic failures to protect very vulnerable children in Greater Manchester is another reminder of how agencies and authorities whose job it is to protect those at risk have too often let them down.
County lines gangs – a letter to the Editor of The Times17/01/2020 09:20:00
The Prime Minister’s decision to tackle the gang leaders who are targeting our kids through a cross-government Cabinet committee should be applauded.
Thousands of children in care passed around the system like parcels and living miles away from family and friends24/12/2019 10:10:00
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday December 24th) publishing a report revealing thousands of children in the care system are living many miles away from family and friends. The report, ‘Pass the parcel: children posted around the care system’, shines a light on the experiences of children in care who are moved ‘out of area’ – away from their home boroughs where family and friends live.
Response to the Home and Foreign Secretaries regarding British children in Syria07/11/2019 12:10:00
Earlier this year Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, wrote to the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary regarding the safety and welfare of British children who have become involved in the conflict in Syria.
Marking 30 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with call on political parties to put the spotlight on children during election campaign05/11/2019 15:20:00
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is calling on the political parties fighting the General Election to put the spotlight on children’s issues, as she joins the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in publishing an assessment of the UK’s progress on children’s rights.
Children’s Commissioner for England calls for changes to gambling laws as report into online gaming reveals children’s gambling fears22/10/2019 10:20:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday) publishing a report, “Gaming the system’’ which looks at the experiences of children who play games online. The Children’s Commissioner’s Office commissioned the research company Revealing Reality to speak to groups of children who play online games like FIFA, Fortnite and Roblox about what they love and what worries them about gaming, both to shine a light on their experiences and to inform policy recommendations.
The state of child poverty and how we can tackle it Home > Latest17/10/2019 15:20:00
On the United Nations Day for Poverty Eradication we should never fail to be shocked that we are talking about child poverty when are one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
Children’s Commissioner for England response to CQC report on the state of care15/10/2019 13:20:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has responded to the CQC annual report into the state of care.
Almost one in five children left education at 18 last year without basic qualifications20/09/2019 15:20:00
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has published research looking at the number of children who leave the education system at 18 without reaching Level 2 attainment (five GCSEs grade A* to C, or equivalent technical qualifications).