More than 1.6 million families on Universal Credit had an average sum of £60 deducted from their benefits during the coronavirus lockdown in May.
At least £100m was deducted from people on the benefit, at a time when campaigners warn that the need for food banks was increasing dramatically and families across the UK were plunged into financial uncertainty.
Two in five households on Universal Credit had money deducted from their claim in May, almost entirely to repay loans to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The loans, known as advance payments, are often taken out by households to tide them over the five-week waiting period before Universal Credit is processed and paid.
Other deductions to repay historic debt and overpayments were suspended in May, but have now resumed – with campaigners raising fears that it will lead to more than £1 billion in total will be deducted from Universal Credit claims this year.
The figures were revealed Glasgow South West’s MP Chris Stephens, who is calling on the department to release its internal review of the drivers of food bank usage, which was due to be released ‘before the end of summer’ but has since been delayed.
The SNP MP, who is a trustee for food poverty charity Feeding Britain, told the Mirror: “The five-week wait for Universal Credit has made it necessary for millions of people with little or no money to rely on loans from the DWP.
“Rather than prevent hardship – as the welfare state is surely meant to do – these loans are, for far too many people in desperate situations, only delaying it by a few weeks until the deductions kick in.
“These figures add yet more weight to the case for non-repayable grants to be introduced, in place of loans, so as to genuinely prevent hardship.”
Feeding Britain’s Director, Andrew Forsey, added: ‘The DWP could instantly make a huge difference to the ability of the poorest in our society to afford food if it were immediately to ease the rate at which money is deducted from Universal Credit.
It says there are plans to do so, but not for another 13 months.
“People who are hungry now cannot afford to wait another 13 months.”
Mr Forsey continued: “At the beginning of lockdown, having recognised the increased pressure being exerted by the pandemic on poorer households’ budgets, the Government gave generously with one hand by increasing Universal Credit by £20 a week.
“Yet that generosity has been all but wiped out in many cases by the deductions policy in its current form.
“Revising this policy now would prevent millions of people from having to face the “heat or eat” dilemma this autumn.’
More than 50 MPs are backing a House of Commons motion calling on the DWP to ease the rate at which money is deducted from Universal Credit.
Responding to Mr Strephen’s question, Junior DWP Minister Will Quince said: “Universal Credit advance repayments are made gradually over 12 months, and deductions are capped at 30% of claimants’ standard allowance.
“This is further to the reduction of the overall maximum level of deductions from 40% to 30% of the standard allowance since October 2019.
“From October 2021, the repayment period will be extended from 12 months to 24 months and the reduction of the deductions cap from 30% to 25%.
“For those who find themselves in unexpected hardship, advance repayments can be deferred for up to three months in certain cases.”
The 10 hardest-hit parts of England
1. Leeds Central – 6,800 claims had an average of £62 deducted
2. Manchester Central – 6,700 claims had an average of £57 deducted
3. Birmingham, Ladywood – 6,700 claims had an average of £56 deducted
4. Middlesbrough – 6,400 claims had an average of £64 deducted
5. Knowsley – 6,400 claims had an average of £61 deducted
6. Blackley and Broughton – 6,200 claims had an average of £58 deducted
7. Bootle – 6,200 claims had an average of £61 deducted
8. Liverpool, Walton – 6,200 claims had an average of £58 deducted
9. Hartlepool – 5,900 claims had an average of £61 deducted
10. Blackpool South – 5,700 claims had an average of £62 deducted
The 10 hardest-hit parts of Wales
1. Cardiff South and Penarth – 4,200 claims had an average of £62 deducted
2. Swansea East – 3,500 claims had an average of £60 deducted
3. Cardiff West – 3,400 claims had an average of £62 deducted
4. Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney – 3,200 claims had an average of £60 deducted
5. Newport West – 3,100 claims had an average of £58 deducted
6.Torfaen – 3,100 claims had an average of £58 deducted
7. Blaenau Gwent – 2,800 claims had an average of £60 deducted
8. Caerphilly – 2,800 claims had an average of £60 deducted
9. Cynon Valley – 2,800 claims had an average of £55 deducted
10. Vale of Glamorgan – 2,800 claims had an average of £59 deducted
The 10 hardest hit parts of Scotland
1. Glasgow East – 4,600 claims had an average of £55 deducted
2. Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath – 4,200 claims had an average of £60 deducted
3. Rutherglen and Hamilton West – 4,200 claims had an average of £53 deducted
4. North Ayrshire and Arran – 4,100 claims had an average of £54 deducted
5. West Dunbartonshire – 4,100 claims had an average of £57 deducted
6. Glasgow North East – 4,000 claims had an average of £53 deducted
7. Kilmarnock and Loudon – 3,900 claims had an average of £56 deducted
8. Motherwell and Wishaw – 3,900 claims had an average of £55 deducted
9. Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock – 3,800 claims had an average of £54 deducted
10. Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill – 3,800 claims had an average of £57 deducted