A Salvation Army spokesperson, said:
“Across our community and professional services, The Salvation Army sees the debilitating effects of poverty on a daily basis.
The social security system plays a vital role in supporting people experiencing financial hardship to maintain a basic standard of living. However, we are concerned that in its current format, Universal Credit has the potential to make it more difficult for people, including those in low paid employment, to access the financial support that they so desperately need.
“According to evidence submitted by the Department of Work and Pensions to a recent Parliamentary inquiry, it is those with "complex circumstances" who are most likely to be adversely affected by the introduction of Universal Credit. As an organisation that works with some of the most vulnerable members in our communities, The Salvation Army is extremely concerned about Universal Credit's ability to adapt to the needs of all of its users, including those with experience of additional needs, including homelessness and addictions, as well as longstanding financial hardship.
“In particular, The Salvation Army feels that six weeks is simply too long for someone to be waiting for their first Universal Credit payment. For those without savings, this waiting period, which can sometimes last beyond six weeks due to administrative errors, can lead people to run up spiralling levels of debt, which in the worst cases can even lead to the threat of homelessness.
“In recent months, we have seen many people approach our services for help due to hardship caused by issues with Universal Credit payments. Unless the Government gives serious thought to reducing the period that people are left waiting for their first payment, we expect this trend to continue during the winter months in the lead up to Christmas. This is simply unacceptable. The upcoming Budget announcement provides the perfect opportunity for the Government to rethink this and help ensure those who are most vulnerable in our communities are not forced into greater hardship due to bureaucratic procedures.
“The Salvation Army supports calls by Citizen Advice and others for the government to consider pausing the roll out of Universal Credit, whilst it works to resolve the current issues with the system, including the waiting period for a first payment, as highlighted by a range of stakeholders, including local authorities and the Work and Pensions Select Committee.”
The Salvation Army’s community church in Crewe has seen a significant increase in people needing support from its food bank. On average, Major Steven Watson and his volunteers hand out 60 food parcels to families or individuals each month; in the last month, this figure increased to 90. Of that 90, Major Steven noted that 30 were for people waiting for Universal Credit payments.
Major Steven says: “We always log the reason why people need a food parcel because we want to understand if we can help their situation by providing support that goes beyond food items. Our record shows that over the last month there has been no doubt that delays in Universal Credit payments has contributed to an increase in people needing our support.
“Yesterday a man was referred to our food bank from the job centre because his benefits had been suspended and he didn’t receive an advance payment. Recently we had a referral from a local school, whose staff had discovered a family didn’t have any food in the house. The long wait for benefit payments is leaving people unable to even afford basic living essentials, such as food.
“People are referred to our food bank from a variety of sources; social workers, police officers, housing associations, health visitors – we even have referrals from the hospital’s maternity unit. Often people who receive benefits have very complex needs already, for example, many people we support have severe mental health issues, have experience of homelessness, have difficult lives at home, or are desperately trying to find work; but when you have very little, or nothing at all, and you’re struggling to deal with a variety of issues in your day-to-day life, delays to benefit payments can be financially catastrophic.
“It’s important to understand that people don’t want to use food banks – they come because they don’t have any food, and they can’t afford to buy any food. We’re their last resort.
“We’ve been able to organise our food bank to be able to respond to emergency referrals now; previously we would operate on Mondays and Fridays but if needed, we can gather a food parcel within the day. Our church in Crewe has a number of links in to the community and we’re very grateful to a few local supermarkets and our regular donors who support us financially or with donations of food items.
“It’s crucial as we go into the colder months – where energy bills go up and Christmas approaches – that the community looks out for each other.”