Universal credit rollout linked to rising food bank use, Rudd admits

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Work and pensions secretary says benefit payment delays could have led to increase

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has conceded that the rollout of universal credit has contributed to an increase in food bank use, going back on previous ministerial claims that this was not the case.

Answering a ministerial question in the Commons about food insecurity and universal credit, the controversial all-in-one working age benefits system that replaces a series of individual payments, Rudd said the system had been improved.

“We are committed to a strong safety net where people need it,” Rudd said in response to a question from Labour’s Sharon Hodgson. “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of universal credit, and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.”

Rudd added: “We have made changes to accessing universal credit so that people can have advances, so that there is a legacy run-on after two weeks of housing benefit, and we believe that that will help with food and security.”

Following up her question, Hodgson said she had interviewed people for an ongoing inquiry into food insecurity, and that the overall reasons were complex. She added: “But they are telling me that universal credit is making their situation worse, not better.”

Rudd, the former home secretary who has pledged a more humane approach to the benefits system since taking the work and pensions job in November, said: “I believe and hope that the changes we have made in terms of accessing early funds will have reduced insecurity, but of course I will take an early interest in the report that she is producing.”

Universal credit has faced persistent criticism that its complexity and, in particular, delays to initial payments, have caused many people making new claims or moving from other benefits to go into debt, with some needing to use food banks.

When he was a junior work and pensions minister, Damian Hinds, now the education secretary, said he did not expect the further rollout of universal credit to mean more people having to use food banks.

In October, another junior minister in the department, Alok Sharma, rejected the findings of a report that said the shift to universal credit had caused many more people to use food banks, saying there were “very many reasons” why people used them.

Ministers have sought to address the hardship caused by delays to initial payments by changing time limits and making it easier for claimants to receive an immediate sum as a loan.

Since taking over at the department, Rudd has paused the planned mass “migration” of existing benefit claimants to universal credit pending another trial and introduced changes such as making payments directly to women if they are the household’s main carer.

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