Bishops make Universal Credit call

    Lichfield Diocese News
    13 Sep 2018
    Pete Bate

    Urgent action needs to be taken to provide more support for people applying for Universal Credit amid reports of a surge in demand at food banks in areas where the benefit has been introduced, the three bishops of Lichfield Diocese said today.

    The diocesan Bishop Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave; the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas; and the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory 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 ensure the social security system provides people with an adequate income to afford good food on a regular basis.

    Universal Credit has already been introduced to several areas across Lichfield Diocese – which includes Staffordshire, northern Shropshire and the Black Country – with others to follow in the coming months. While some people are finding Universal Credit helpful, many of the most vulnerable do not have the resources to cope with the change or a reduced level of support.

    In a joint statement, the three bishops said: “We have signed the End Hunger UK petition, calling on the Government to fix Universal Credit to prevent more people going hungry. We would like to also encourage parishes and churchgoers across Lichfield Diocese to do likewise.

    “More and more families have had to turn to food banks following the introduction of Universal Credit, and are reporting unintended delays, lack of digital support, poor administration, and a lack of flexibility in the system. All of these problems can and should be resolved.

    “In our diocese alone, there are 13 Trussell Trust food banks, which last year distributed 31,376 emergency food parcels to people in crisis. There are also at least 29 independent food banks. Many of our local churches do quite remarkable work, helping to meet the need in their communities but we must proactively reduce the need for food banks in the first place.

    “We need urgent action to improve the flexibility and support for people on Universal Credit, and a long-term commitment that the social security system will provide enough income to afford good food on a regular basis. Without such action, we can expect to see more and more people turning to food banks and becoming trapped in poverty, as more people are moved on to Universal Credit.”

    The call comes as The Trussell Trust reports a 52 per cent increase in food bank use in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, as well as rising debt, destitution and hunger.

    In Sandwell, demand for food bank provision has already risen by 24 per cent in the last quarter with only pockets having experienced the Universal Credit rollout so far. The Black Country Foodbank network, which is in 21 locations across the area, is bracing itself for growing demand as the rollout continues across the region in the coming months while facing critically low stock levels.

    “We’ve adapted our food bank provision to offer some stability to people while they wait for their first payment of Universal Credit, but the application process and reduced payments do mean we are supporting people for much longer. Many of our users are anxious and depressed as they try to deal with the ongoing insecurity they feel,” said Emma Crook, Partnerships Worker for Black Country Foodbank.

    The bishops have called on churches and churchgoers in the area to consider signing the petition and to collect further signatures, as well as liaising with neighbouring churches to raise awareness of food poverty in their local area.

    The petition will be delivered to the Prime Minister in the lead-up to the Budget in November.

    Meanwhile, the introduction of Universal Credit will mean a big change to the way many people and families manage their money and spending. Just Finance Black Country is delivering the UCSavvy course (in partnership with whg) to help people prepare. Find out more here.