Universal Credit is driving more people towards using food banks
Problems with Universal Credit are driving an increase in the number of emergency supplies handed out at food banks, new figures reveal.
The Trussell Trust said its network provided 658,048 supplies between April and September, a 13% increase on the same period a year ago.
The charity said that if the five-week minimum wait for a first Universal Credit payment is not reduced, the only way to prevent more people being forced to rely on food banks is to pause all new claims for the benefit.
The Trust, which has food banks in Sunderland, Hartlepool and Chester-le-Street, said problems with Universal Credit is increasingly driving referrals.
Food banks receive more referrals for emergency support during the second half of the financial year, raising concerns that more people will rely on them.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, which supports 428 food banks across the UK, said: "Our benefits system is supposed to anchor any of us from being swept into poverty, but if Universal Credit is to do that, we need to see urgent changes.
"It's not right that people are being forced to use food banks after weeks of waiting for Universal Credit payments.
"The changes announced in last week's Budget are a good start - but they won't solve all of the problems food banks see, and they won't help people making new claims this winter.
"We're seeing soaring levels of need at food banks. If the five-week wait isn't reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to food banks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five week wait.
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"Food banks cannot continue to pick up the pieces - we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger."
A petition calling on the Government to tackle problems with Universal Credit will be delivered to 10 Downing Street tomorrow.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment.
"We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by Â£1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced Â£1billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.
"This is on top of the improvements we have already made - advances have increased to 100%, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto Universal Credit.
"The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it's wrong to link a rise to any one cause."
Margaret Greenwood, Shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "This Tory Government is leaving people at risk of destitution as more and more people are being forced to rely on food banks.
"Nobody should be left waiting weeks for a payment and the Government must stop the botched roll-out of Universal Credit now."