Families go hungry while Tower Hamlets Council battles to ‘fill gap’ in Universal Credit

PUBLISHED: 15:06 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:43 17 October 2019

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs... launching report by Child Poverty Action into effects of Universal Credit. Picture: Kios Miah/LBTH

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs... launching report by Child Poverty Action into effects of Universal Credit. Picture: Kios Miah/LBTH

Kios Miah

Parents with young children have gone without food or adequate winter heating after being moved onto Universal Credit, new research by Tower Hamlets Council has revealed.

Cllr Rachel Blake... Cllr Rachel Blake... "We will lobby the government to listen to these struggling families." Picture: Mike Brooke

The shock findings come from East End families on the poverty line who have been grappling with the benefits reform.

They expose delays with the move over from previous benefits, with payments being stopped or miscalculated and confusing online forms to fill out, Child Poverty Action Group research commissioned by the council has found.

Now the town hall has had to dip into public coffers to set up a £6.6million poverty fund to help families being switched to the new benefits system.

"Universal Credit has made serious problems for families," Mayor John Biggs says in a statement to the East London Advertiser.

"We have introduced a poverty fund in response, which includes £1m targeted at those being transferred onto Universal Credit to help the most vulnerable families."

Researchers who met claimants last winter and spring found one family only able to heat a single room, despite having a young child. One parent was going without eating for several days as a sacrifice for the children.

Child Poverty's chief executive Alison Garnham said: "Many families simply didn't have enough money to live on, especially during the five-week wait for their first payment. It's right to have a social security system that protects people from poverty, but we found Universal Credit isn't achieving that aim."

Many families were confused about what, when and how to claim. Some were even left without money during the transition period, or unexpectedly had payments stopped altogether.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake, cabinet member for tackling poverty, promised: "We will lobby the government to listen to these families and make changes to avoid others living through the same struggles."

The Poverty Action report is based on the experience of fewer than 300 claimants, the government's Works and Pensions Department points out, while 17,000 people are receiving Universal Credit in Tower Hamlets.

A spokesman stressed: "Nobody should struggle to claim the benefits they need. We have a support to help people, including Citizens Advice."

Works and Pensions claims its own survey of 15,000 claimants found 80 per cent "satisfied with Universal Credit".

Yet Poverty Action found most claimants they interviewed had no incentive to work more hours because Credit payments reduced immediately after earnings went up. That landed them further in debt "made worse by Universal Credit payments in arrears" on top of the five-week wait at the start of claims.

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