The Government continues to provide a strong safety net through the welfare system for those who need extra support, whilst simultaneously working to support economic recovery and get people back into work as quickly as possible. While there are currently no official statistics on the number of foodbanks, which are independent charitable organisations, the Government added questions on food security to the Family Resources Survey, to support a better understanding of the lived experiences of families experiencing food insecurity.
Universal Credit (UC) has provided a safety net for six million people during the coronavirus pandemic. Advances are available urgently should anyone be in significant financial distress, and the Government has recently lengthened the payback period from 12 months to 24 meaning in effect someone can receive 25 payments over 24 months.
As I understand it from discussions with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Government prioritised measures that could be quickly and effectively operationalised to benefit those likely to be facing the most financial disruption during the pandemic.
It is worth noting that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for UC if they believe they will be better off. It is my understanding that the Government encourages anybody to go on GOV.UK and use one of the independent benefit calculators to check carefully their eligibility, because on applying for UC their entitlement to legacy benefits will cease and they will not be able to return to them in the future. Neither DWP nor HMRC can advise individual claimants whether they would be better off moving to UC or remaining on legacy benefits. They can get help through the government funded Help to Claim scheme as well as the Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.
Legacy benefits were increased by £600m (1.7 per cent) from April 2020 and received a further £100m (0.5 per cent) increase from April 2021 as part of the Government’s annual up-rating exercise. It is important to add that temporary increases to UC and Tax Credits have been part of a wider support package. The increase in Local Housing Allowance rates, for example, benefits both Universal Credit claimants and legacy claimants in receipt of housing support. This significant investment cost almost £1 billion and ensures that more than 1 million households will see an increase, on average, of £600 per year. The Government has also introduced the £269m Covid Local Support Grant, which is distributed by local authorities to help children and families stay warm and well-fed.