Food bank use has increased due to the universal credit roll-out, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has admitted.
Ms Rudd said it was “absolutely clear” there had been issues with roll-out and said people being unable to access money “led to an increase in food bank use”.
Labour MP Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) had asked about the impact of the roll-out during Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) questions in the Commons.
The DWP Secretary said: “We’re committed to a strong safety net where people need it.
“It’s absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out of universal credit and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulties accessing their money early enough.
“We have made changes to accessing universal credit so people can have advances, so there is a legacy run on after two weeks of housing benefit, and we believe that will help with food bank use.”
Asked later whether Theresa May agreed with the Work and Pensions Secretary’s assessment of the impact of UC on food bank use, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster media briefing: “We have long acknowledged that there were issues with the initial rollout of Universal Credit.
“That’s why we have listened and made improvements, such as extending advances, removing waiting days and introducing Housing Benefit run-on.
“These changes are giving support to vulnerable people who need it most, while at the same time helping people get into work faster.”
Mrs Hodgson, who is co-chairing the Children’s Future Food inquiry, told the Commons her investigations into families struggling to feed their children showed the roll-out had left them “worse not better” off.
She said: “It is complex but they’re telling me universal credit is making their situation worse not better.
“Will she join me in April at the launch of this report and will she tackle children’s food insecurity as a matter of urgency?”
Ms Rudd responded positively, saying: “I am as committed, as she is, about tackling food insecurity, obviously particularly for children.
“I believe and hope the changes we have made about accessing early funds will have reduced food insecurity but of course I will take an early interest in the report she is producing and I look forward to seeing it.”
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) said the legacy welfare system meant “someone on benefits moving into work could lose up to £9 of every £10 they earned, no incentive whatsoever to work?”
Ms Rudd thanked her colleague for highlighting the problems with the previous system, which she described as “a real failing”, and said the new system would “make sure that work will always pay”.
Ms Rudd told MPs she would “look at” a proposal to make sure people with a terminal illness are “treated correctly” in relation to personal independence payments.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) had called on her to support a Bill put forward by Labour MP Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) which seeks to remove the six-month limit on how long a patient has left to live before their condition is deemed “terminal”.
Ms Abrahams said: “Since 2013 nearly 8,000 disabled people have died within six months of having been found ineligible for personal independence payments – yet more evidence that this assessment process is not fit for purpose.
“So if the Secretary of State isn’t prepared to scrap this inhumane process, will she at least support (Mrs Moon’s) Bill to remove the arbitrary and cruel six-month time limit for people with a terminal illness?”
Ms Rudd replied: “She will be aware that under DLA there were also assessments and also difficulties in getting people paid on time, so let us not pretend this is a wholly new change in terms of the consequences.
“Certainly I will look at that, I have started to look at the proposal that (Mrs Moon) has made, to make sure that people with a terminal illness are treated correctly and get the support that they need as soon as possible.”
In response to the SNP’s Peter Grant (Glenrothes), she added: “I do not want people generally listening and watching this exchange to think that it is something to be fearful of. The people who conduct these assessments are sympathetic, thoughtful people who try to give the right answers.”
During DWP questions, Sarah Newton, minister of state for disabled people, health and work, said: “Today I am delighted to be able to announce from April 1 that we will be uprating the access to work grant to just under £60,000 per person per year which enables tailor-made support to enable people to work.”