EAST LANCASHIRE food banks slam universal credit cuts and say it will only leave families worse off in the winter months.

Today (6 October), the £20-per-week uplift to the benefit that was introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic ended, leaving recipients £1,040 worse off per year.

The uplift has been a lifeline to many and there are fears that families will be forced into poverty as they see incomes drastically reduced; a situation that will now be made worse with the recent rise in energy prices.

Councillors and local charities have spoken out against it with some already seeing the fallout from the decision.

Pastor Anne Lincoln, of Hyndburn Foodbank based in Clayton le Moors, thinks it was “such a huge mistake” to remove the £20 uplift and says “people are suffering because of it”.

She added: “The government and councils are going to suffer because of the demand for help they are going to be asked for.

“I can already see the backlash of it from families who are very much in need in help.”

Just this morning, a family-of-seven approached the foodbank and were “distressed” by the cut.

She explained: “They’ve lost [£20 per week] and they can’t do without it – they need it back.”

Ms Lincoln explained that the number of people needing food is rising again and they are “preparing themselves for an influx of demand over Christmas.”

We see people on low incomes who are already struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes.

People have become reliant on the £20 a week extra in their Universal Credit payment. Cuts to this alongside increasing energy, fuel and food costs will make it very difficult for people for manage.

Councillor Jackie Floyd, trustee of Blackburn Foodbank, believes the changes will have an significant impact on Foodbank use.

Lancashire Telegraph: Blackburn Foodbank (Photo:Google Maps)Blackburn Foodbank (Photo:Google Maps)

She added adding that the team are already seeing changes and preparing for more.

She said: “We’ve been planning for [the uplift cuts] for some months now and we’re disappointed that the £20 uplift hasn’t been maintained.

“We are preparing for a difficult winter.”

Ms Floyd added that the cuts have come at a bad time, with families coming off furlough and changes to fuel costs coming in.

She added: “We have already noticed a great increase in families coming to our services.

“A lot of folk on universal credit are already working hard so this is a direct payment being taken away from families who are already doing their bit”

For the past 18 months, Jackie said they have already started making connections with the charity sector which supports family and food poverty.

They will be working with Blackburn charities, such as Rummage Rescuers and Secret Santa to build a strong alliance and help those in need in the coming months.  

She explained: “As soon as it was announced we have constantly been building those stronger relationships with others across the town and working together to help those in poverty."

Catherine Haseley, advice and outreach coordinator for Maundy Relief, said the Accrington-based charity is already seeing people on low incomes who are struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes.

She added:” People have become reliant on the £20 a week extra in their universal credit payment. Cuts to this alongside increasing energy, fuel and food costs will make it very difficult for people for manage.

“Maundy Relief have lots of demand for our Food bank and Advice Service already and this is likely to increase with the cuts.”

Blackburn Labour MP, Kate Hollern, said that it isn't the right time for the government to be making this cut. 

She said: "Almost 17,000 people in Blackburn alone will be £1000 a year worse off. Over 5000 universal credit claimants are actually in work and on minimum wage.

"This is all at a time when we've seen living costs, petrol costs and energy costs rising and people are still dealing with the impact of Covid-19.

"I dread to think of the impact of £17 million being taken out of the local economy in Blackburn. The Government is quite simply wrong on this issue, and should reverse its decision'."

County Cllr Julie Gibson, the Labour Group Shadow Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration has renewed calls for the Government to scrap its planned changes to Universal Credit

Speaking on BBC Radio Lancashire, Cllr Gibson said: “We are about to witness a sharp rise in energy prices. Households on standard tariffs will see bills go up by £139 to £1,277 a year, and prepayment meter customers with average energy use will see a £153 increase.

“This represents a 12% rise in energy prices at a time of the year when people are about to use more heating and lighting during colder, darker days.”

She continued “At the same time we are about to witness a cut of £20.00 a week to Universal Credit despite calls from campaigners to Government to keep the lifeline. This will mean many people will be forced into the horrible decision of whether they heat their homes or feed their families.”

Cllr Gibson said: “Back in February, the full council meeting at Lancashire County Council unanimously backed my motion to Government to listen to the concerns of welfare organisations, charities, local councillors and other partners, to keep the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit.

"The Government listened and extended the lifeline but now, again, we face the very real threat that the uplift will be cut."

Cllr Gibson said: “As we start to re-build our society, it would make no sense to weaken it; having faced the uncertainties over COVID, Lancashire residents now face uncertainty over unemployment and cuts in vital benefits leaving many of them facing the prospect of a 'bleak mid-winter'.

"I urge the Government to listen to its Councillors, partner organisations and residents and 'keep the lifeline.'"

Will the universal credit uplift cuts impact you? Send your story to sarah.mcgee@newsquest.co.uk