A report by the Trussell Trust published today found that the number of food bank referrals in the North West have increased sharply over the last year from 160,000 in 2015-16 to over 174,000 in 2016-17.
It also found that referrals to food banks have increased by more than double the national average in areas where the Universal Credit full service has been rolled out. The full service is due to be introduced in Wirral this November.
The Trussell Trust is the leading food bank network in the UK. The report can be found at https://www.trusselltrust.org/2017/04/25/uk-foodbank-use-continues-rise/
Responding to the findings, Margaret Greenwood, MP for Wirral West and Shadow Minister for Employment and Inequalities, said:
"I am extremely concerned by the sharp increase in food bank referrals in the North West.
"The report by the Trussell Trust also shows that referrals have increased by more than double the national average in areas where the Universal Credit full service has been rolled out. This has major implications for Wirral where the full service is due to be introduced in November.
“I recently met with volunteers at the food parcels project at the Community Shop on the Overchurch estate to hear about the work they do to support people who are struggling to put food on the table.
"Volunteers told me that they have people from all over Wirral coming for support.
“I urge the government to learn from the report published today and take action so that the same problems with the introduction of the Universal Credit full service are not repeated here in Wirral.
“Delays are the single biggest reason for referrals to food banks according to this study and they are also leading to people building up rent arrears.
“The government should cut the 6 week wait before any claimant receives Universal Credit. In some areas waiting times are even longer due to delays in processing claims.
"This report only adds to my concerns about the rise in child poverty, which currently stands at 4 million in the UK as a whole with around 18,000 children living in poverty in Wirral according to the latest figures.
“Claims for Universal Credit in full service areas are intended to be both made and managed online, but it is clear that navigating the online system can present real problems for people. Some claimants clearly need additional support in claiming online either because they lack access to the internet or are not confident using computers.
“The government claimed that Universal Credit would reduce poverty, but this study suggests that it can push people into poverty because of flaws in its design. It is clear that Universal Credit needs a major review.”
According to the latest government figures, there are 4 million children in the UK growing up in poverty.
Catherine McKinnell MP led a debate at Westminster only last week on the roll-out of the full service of Universal Credit which highlighted the problems that people in Newcastle are experiencing as a result of the roll-out.
There have been reports of claims being shut down before they should be, of documentation provided online being lost and of conflicting information being provided to claimants about their claims.
Universal Credit is a new benefit which is replacing a number of working age benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance, Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.
At present Jobcentres in Wirral do not deal with the full range of claims for Universal Credit as they will have to do when the full service is introduced here.
DWP aims for all claims to be made and managed online under the full service. However, the experience in Newcastle has been that it has actually led to increased numbers of claimants trying to contact DWP either by phone or in person at a Jobcentre to resolve problems created by the new service.