One food bank says it needs an extra 15 tonnes of food for the Christmas period because of the Universal Credit roll-out

A Trussell Trust food bank (PA Images)
A Trussell Trust food bank (PA Images)

A single food bank says it will need an additional 15 tonnes of food over the Christmas period to help people affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The Wirral food bank estimated it would need the additional supplies due to an increased number of referrals from people whose income has been affected by the Government’s new benefit policy.

Almost a quarter of Universal Benefit claimants have had to wait more than six weeks for their first payment because of errors and issues with evidencing claims.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, told a Work and Pensions committee: ‘In Birkenhead the food bank is estimating it will need an additional 15 tonnes of food over the Christmas period because the roll-out is occurring in Birkenhead.’

Richard Roberts, a spokesperson for the Trussell Trust Wirral food bank, told Yahoo News UK: ‘This is an estimate based on other food banks in the UK.

‘The Trussell Trust has carried out research that estimated an increase of 17% in referrals for emergency food in areas of full roll out.’

The food bank currently helps more than 12,000 people in crisis with emergency food.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke

Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke said he would not offer advice to food banks, but added: ‘We do think that a system whereby payment timeliness is improving – which it is – and payment of advances is increasing – which it is – is likely to mean that those people who have undoubtedly faced pressures in the period before their first payment are not likely to see those pressures being as great in future.’

The Work and Pensions Secretary rejected Labour’s call for a pause in UC roll-out, telling the committee that it would ‘delay us making progress towards… providing help to large numbers of our citizens’.

MP Ruth George told the same committee: ‘Food banks and the Trussell Trust say they’ve seen more than a doubling of referrals in areas where Universal Credit full service is being rolled out.’

Labour is demanding that the rollout of the new system, which combines six benefits for working-age people into one payment, be paused.

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Amid reports that up to 25 Tory MPs could be willing to rebel over criticism that people are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt, Labour will call on ministers to ‘pause and fix’ the flagship benefit reform.

Mr Gauke today announced that the fees for the Universal credit hotline would be scrapped.

He told the committee that the 0345 number was charged at local rate and was included as a free call in many landline and mobile phone packages.

The number was not a premium-rate number and DWP made no money from it, he insisted.

But he added: ‘Given the recent attention and concern that this could place a burden on claimants, I have decided that this will change to a freephone number over the next month.

‘It has been DWP’s longstanding position to operate local line charges for benefit inquiry lines, but having reviewed this matter more widely I will be extending freephone numbers to all DWP phone lines by the end of the year.’