Next government must revamp universal credit, says Gateshead Foodbank chief

Citizens Advice Gateshead, Davidson building, Swan Street, Gateshead
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Whoever becomes Prime Minster following Thursday’s general election will face a “shock to the system” but must lead the nation to a “brighter future”, says a Gateshead Foodbank boss.

Gateshead Foodbank’s project manager, Lesleyann Watson, has urged whichever government forms from July 4 to build a universal credit system “fit for purpose” and lead the country to a “brighter future”. This comes as the volunteer organisation reveals it distributed 8,545 emergency food parcels in Gateshead alone last year.

Food insecurity continues to be a major problem in Gateshead, according to Lesleyann, where food banks are seeing households with two working adults use the facilities due to unexpected costs or simply the cost of living.

Nationally, major foodbank network The Trussell Trust distributed more than 3.1m parcels between March 2023 and 2024, as the cost of living crisis continues to bite. Now, The Trussell Trust, of which the Gateshead Food Bank is part, is urging any prospective government to reform the universal credit system to help prevent food bank dependence.

According to a study conducted by the trust in February 2024, 55% of people receiving universal credit ran out of food within a month, and could afford any more.

Lesleyann, 49, said: “Whoever wakes up with the job as prime minister, it’ll be a shock to the system whoever picks that job up.

The former NHS social prescriber continued: "For any party that picks up the role of government on Friday, they have got a responsibility really to lead us to a more hopeful and brighter future where people feel supported. Those people who are coming to the foodbank won't need to because their universal credit is fit for purpose, people's wages and salaries are able to accommodate what they are able to pay for at the end of the week.

“It's not just me saying this, we hear it from the public and other services that foodbanks shouldn't be here but they are, and the new government has a responsibility to really hear and listen to what people are saying.”

The foodbank chief also urged whoever is elected to represent their various Gateshead constituencies to share the messages of foodbank users in Parliament and push for more central government support to tackle the problem. Lesleyann said: “They need to push central government at Prime Minister’s Questions and share and pass over the messages about the realities of what is going on.”

Gateshead Foodbank is a volunteer organisation, operating without central government funding, with three distribution centres across the area. These are the Citizens Advice Gateshead, Gateshead Hwy, Birtley Methodist and Blaydon Methodist churches.