Christmas is a period typically associated with joy, gifts, and for many, overeating. However, the reality of this for some families and individuals is often very different. The Christmas period is an exceedingly expensive one; the pressure to purchase costly presents and pay for Christmas itself, as well as heating the home during the colder months, becomes a strain on finances. Consequently, many are left dependent on foodbanks to get by. Could the slow rollout process of the Government’s new Universal Credit system be a contributing factor to this increased reliance on food handouts?
Universal Credit is being introduced in stages across the UK as a single monthly payment for people in or out of work. This new social security payment is designed to simplify the benefit system, rolling together and slowly replacing the six primary means tested benefits. The payment is monthly, meaning that it can take up to five weeks to get your first payment after making your claim. This is the primary problem; the delay leaves some claimants struggling to cover the essentials and having to turn to foodbanks.
Figures provided by the Trussell Trust show that, compared to the monthly average, December 2017 saw a 49% increase in the distribution of three-day emergency packs. This increased dependency on foodbanks over the winter months may develop because people have to prioritise heating their homes over purchasing food. Christmas time becomes stressful for those who struggle to afford the basics and delayed Universal Credit payments surely make this worse. Further increases in demand for emergency packs from food banks such as those established by the Trussell Trust are, therefore, likely.
The Trussell Trust’s figures also reveal that the need for foodbanks during the festive season is rising each year, with 2017′s figure 10% higher than 2016. With the introduction of Universal Credit, it is anticipated that the figure will rise once again this Christmas. Whilst Universal Credit is not the sole factor for increased foodbank usage- as this increase was seen even before its introduction, it is clearly making getting through the Christmas period more challenging for many individuals and families.
A quicker turn around in payments of Universal Credit could be a way to combat increased reliance on food banks. The Trussell Trust’s Chief Executive, Emma Revie, reminds us that it is “unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place.” Why are people who are receiving social security in our country in this position? An overhaul of payments is surely necessary in order to prevent this worrying increase in people who are struggling to feed themselves. It is obvious that the benefit system as a whole has not succeeded because claimants are not all able cover essential living costs, and Universal Credit seems unable to resolve this. Christmas foodbank usage is but one illustration of the problem that, in reality, many citizens face year-round in trying to access the basics. There are wide issues concerning current social security. However, whilst these issues in society exist, these resources remain vital to those who need them, and donating to them is a way in which we can all help. The Trussell Trust runs local foodbanks in Heaton and Benwell; donating whatever you can to these foodbanks could make the difference for those who are struggling this Christmas.