Amber Rudd has admitted for the first time that the rollout of Universal Credit could have forced more people to rely on foodbanks.
The work and pensions secretary told MPs on Monday that rising foodbank use in the UK could have been caused by the government’s flagship welfare scheme, which sees six key benefits rolled into one.
“It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit and the main issue which led to an increase in foodbank use could have been the fact people had difficulty accessing their money early enough,” Rudd told the House of Commons.
“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 will help with food insecurity.”
Rudd’s admission marks a significant change in tone by the government, which has repeatedly denied claims that Universal Credit has led to increased foodbank use.
Her comments were endorsed by the prime minister’s official spokesperson who said the secretary of state was talking about the “initial period of Universal Credit”.
“We’ve long acknowledged there were initial issues with the rollout of Universal Credit, that’s why we have listened and made improvements, such as extending advances, removing waiting days and introducing house benefit run-on.”
But just four months ago, work and pensions minister Alok Sharma insisted that the increased use of foodbanks “could not be attributed to a single reason”, later saying that there were “very many reasons” why foodbank usage might increase in an area after Universal Credit was introduced.
However, according to poverty charity the Trussell Trust, on average fooodbanks see a 52% increase in demand a year after Universal Credit is introduced to an area.
In 2017/18 the network handed out 1.3 million food parcels to an estimated 666,000 people – an increase of 13% on the previous year.
Rudd’s admission follows the unveiling of secret plans by the department of work and pensions (DWP) to investigate whether the government’s own policies had led to a sharp increase in foodbank use in recent years.
When questioned by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson on Monday about the link between Universal Credit and food insecurity, Rudd said she was committed to dealing with the issue, “obviously particularly for children”.
“I believe and hope that the changes that we have made in terms of accessing early funds will have reduced food insecurity,” she said, adding she would look into an upcoming report on the matter.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said it was “promising” that Rudd was listening to evidence of foodbanks across the UK – but said Universal Credit “isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised”.
“What we need now is action, to address the reasons why Universal Credit has forced some people to food banks,” she said.
“Five weeks is too long to wait for Universal Credit. It’s leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics. The changes the government has made so far won’t stop people needing food banks – the best way to make sure no one needs a food bank while waiting for Universal Credit is to end the five week wait.”