CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Camden’s foodbanks warn poorest families face benefits crisis

Charities warn of 'impending catastrophe' of universal credit system

30 August, 2018 — By William McLennan

Nadia Shah and Dorothea Hackman collect donations

FOODBANKS are preparing for an “impending catastrophe” as thousands of Camden’s poorest families are expected to be made worse off by government benefit changes.

Charities have warned they will struggle to meet increased demand as households experience delays or reductions to benefits when the universal credit system is introduced across the borough in December.

Dorothea Hackman, secretary of Euston Foodbank, said: “There is an impending catastrophe in December in the run-up to Christmas. The timing is terrible.”

Adrienne McPherson, manager of Chalk Farm Foodbank, said: “I’m very concerned about it. I do fear the worst and we are preparing for the outcome of that. Sadly, I predict that we will see more people using our services more frequently.”

It is estimated by Camden Council that 5,000 low-income families will be worse off, with half of these losing more than £100 a month. Universal credit will replace six existing benefits with a single lump sum paid directly to claimants. Its introduction has been staggered across the country. Benefit claimants face a five-week wait for payment, which has led to destitution and debt in other regions.

The Town Hall has begun disaster planning, with proposals drawn up to mitigate the impact, including supporting vulnerable residents with no experience of budgeting. People receiving housing benefit will be responsible for paying their landlord for the first time.

Ms Hackman said the Euston Foodbank is already supporting around 500 people a month. Many have either experienced benefit delays or are unable to make ends meet amid soaring living costs and stagnating wages.

“People are not happy about coming,” she said. “By and large they feel angry or humiliated or upset. They are pretty desperate.” Even before universal credit hits, the foodbanks, which are dependent on donations, are struggling to meet demand.

“We need five tonnes of food a month and we are probably only getting three tonnes,” Ms Hackman said. They make up the shortfall by borrowing from other foodbanks and using cash donations from church parishioners to buy food. Among those to make referrals to foodbanks are the Job Centre, Camden Council and GP practices. Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer said he was “very concerned” about universal credit, which he said had been “plagued by mistakes and delays causing real hardship” when introduced elsewhere in the country. He said it was “very likely to put a further strain on our already hard-pressed foodbank”, adding: “The government should have paused universal credit long ago and reconsidered the whole approach.”

Council leader Georgia Gould said: “The council is making sure advocacy and advice are in place for residents. However, we believe the policy is deeply flawed, and we will continue to call on the Tory government to reconsider before they do more damage to our community.” The Department for Work and Pensions insists that universal credit is “working for the vast majority”.

It said “significant improvements” have been made, including offering loans to support people before the first payment is received. Housing benefit will now be received for two weeks after applications for universal credit are made. It added: “Work is the best means of providing people with financial security, and with our welfare reforms people are moving into employment faster and staying there longer than under the old system.”

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