'Universal Credit to blame for sharp rise in Mansfield food bank usage'

The number of people using Mansfield food banks has risen by a third because of Universal Credit, says front line volunteers.

Jo Haynes, who greets people coming to collect packages at The Trussell Trust food bank in Mansfield Woodhouse, said their stocks are "half of what they should be", because of an surge in users struggling with the new benefit system.

Volunteers Owen Asher and Glenn Parker.

Volunteers Owen Asher and Glenn Parker.

Jo, who has been volunteering at the Church Street food bank for more than two years, said she has seen residents who have gone without their benefit money for 11 weeks because of the changes to the welfare system.

She said: "In our stocks we are under half in what we usually have because of the influx of people, the majority because of Universal Credit, no matter what the government says. We see it - we are on the front line.

"There has been at least a third increase over the last year in users if not double.

"Near enough everyone that comes in, except from some which are homeless, have been affected by Universal Credit."

Empty shelves in the food bank.

Empty shelves in the food bank.

Universal Credit has been rolled out in areas since 2017 and was launched in Mansfield in September 2018.

A single monthly payment replaces weekly or fortnightly payments of benefits such as income support, housing benefit and child tax credit.

The Trussell Trust said 70 per cent of claimants it asked had ended up in debt due to the change.

Jo, who also volunteers for Citizens Advice, said: "I know it is all over the UK, but it is absolutely shocking - and it isn't even fully rolled out around here yet.

"If you have a change in circumstances and you have to make a new claim, you go on Universal Credit.

"So then people are waiting five weeks - we even had somebody that was waiting 11 weeks for some money."

She also criticised a loan available to people waiting for Universal Credit.

She said: "As much as they can have an advance on the benefit - they still have to pay it back.

"They can pay it off over a 12-month period, which is fine, but, its not when your only on £50 a week and you have to pay £6 to £7. That is a lot of money out of £50.

"It doesn't work and we are seeing that here.

"And when people do get Universal Credit, they are still coming in because a lot of their money has dropped."

Jo said volunteers are also now having to ask what people need in their package, because of their empty stockroom, which comes as The Trussell Trust said it handed out a record number of packages nationally in the last year.

Between April 2018 and March 2019, the charity handed out 26,678 emergency three-day food packages at food banks in Nottinghamshire – 40 per cent of them to children.

The total was a 14 per cent increase on the previous year, when 23,322 were distributed.

She said: "We are very low in stocks to the point where we have to ask people if they nee toilet roll, a tooth brush and toothpaste, usually we would give them out anyway.

"When it comes to body care items such as sanitary towels or deodorant, we have to ask them if they need them, because we are low in everything.

"We can concentrate on the food, but we want to keep people clean as well as fed."