Church of England bishops have called for urgent action to provide more support for people applying for Universal Credit amid evidence of an increase in demand at food banks in areas where the benefit has been introduced. More than 30 bishops are backing a petition brought by the End Hunger UK campaign calling for the Government to ‘fix’ Universal Credit, including providing more help and a more flexible system for claimants applying and for those already receiving the benefit.
The campaign is also calling for improvements to the design of Universal Credit and a long-term commitment to ensuring the social security system provides people with an adequate income to afford good food on a regular basis.
The Trussell Trust reports an average increase of 52% in food bank use in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for more than a year, as well as rising debt, destitution and hunger.
The Diocese of Guildford is considered a wealthy area where many have the benefit of a lovely home, well paid employment and plenty of food. There are, however, pockets of deprivation across the Diocese where life isn’t so easy. Food insecurity is a growing issue here in Surrey and North East Hampshire as well as nationally.
Over the summer, some foodbanks across the area ran very low or even out of food. In Elmbridge, food bank usage has increased by 37% this year according to Walton Charity and this need is set to increase with the introduction of Universal Credit.
The reason the introduction of Universal Credit in having such an impact is because whilst it simplifies the benefits process there is a 5 week delay between applying for benefits and receiving the first payment. When an application for universal credit is made, other benefits stop. This is obviously leaving people in a very vulnerable position as they rarely have any savings to fall back on.
What can Christians do to help? Well, the Church already does quite a lot – the foodbanks are, on the whole, run by churches. During the school holidays, churches and others are providing opportunities for families to come together to have fun and have a meal. This helps with holiday hunger, particularly for those who benefit from free school meals. The food parcels at Christmas and other times of year also help families and those who may be finding it difficult to make ends meet.
To find out more and support the petition please follow the link: http://endhungeruk.org/universalcredit/. The petition will be presented to 10 Downing Street in the lead up to the Autumn Budget in mid-November.