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'Very, very cruel' Universal Credit benefit sparks need for foodbank expansion

PUBLISHED: 11:10 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:10 08 May 2019

Left to right, Penny Arbuthnot, Genesis, John Button, Castons, Jane Riley, Mayor of Ipswich, Maureen Reynel MBE, Roz Eminson, High Sheriff of Suffolk, Nick Timms, Barnes Construction, and David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council at the new FIND foodbank site  Picture: WARREN PAGE

Left to right, Penny Arbuthnot, Genesis, John Button, Castons, Jane Riley, Mayor of Ipswich, Maureen Reynel MBE, Roz Eminson, High Sheriff of Suffolk, Nick Timms, Barnes Construction, and David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council at the new FIND foodbank site Picture: WARREN PAGE

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An under-pressure foodbank has said problems caused by Universal Credit are among the main reasons it is being forced to build new £300,000 premises.

Maureen Reynel MBE and the High Sheriff of Suffolk, Roz Eminson at the new FIND foodbank site  Picture: WARREN PAGEMaureen Reynel MBE and the High Sheriff of Suffolk, Roz Eminson at the new FIND foodbank site Picture: WARREN PAGE

Families In Need (FIND) founder Maureen Reynel called the controversial benefits system, rolled out gradually since 2013, "very, very cruel" for the way it had caused a huge escalation in foodbank demand.

She was speaking as FIND started building work on its new headquarters on Tuesday, May 7 to help cope with huge numbers of people needing its support.

Between April 2018 and April 2019, it handed out 1,500 food parcels - 200 more than the same period last year.

Historically, the rise in demand has been down to a combination of higher food and electricity bills alongside lower-paid jobs.

Maureen Reynel MBE at the new FIND foodbank site in the former changing rooms adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre  Picture: WARREN PAGEMaureen Reynel MBE at the new FIND foodbank site in the former changing rooms adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre Picture: WARREN PAGE

But Mrs Reynel said: "Most of our referrals are now saying: 'Universal Credit, Universal Credit.'"

Asked whether that rise in demand was one of the main reasons why FIND now needs new premises, she replied: "Yes."

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said the reasons for people using foodbanks are "varied and many" and that it has made numerous improvements to a system designed to streamline people's benefits into a single payment.

"On Universal Credit no-one has to wait to be paid as up to 100% advances are available from day one of a claim," the spokesman said.

New FIND food bank premises on the former changing rooms adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre on Braziers Wood Road  Picture: WARREN PAGE New FIND food bank premises on the former changing rooms adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre on Braziers Wood Road Picture: WARREN PAGE

"We've made numerous improvements to Universal Credit - giving support to vulnerable people who need it most, while at the same time helping people get into work faster."

But Mrs Reynel said: "Universal Credit is not helpful. It is a cruel, cruel benefit."

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She added that in her view it "isn't worth what the other benefits used to be".

FIND's current base in Felixstowe Road is not large enough to cope with its workload, she said, with volunteers often having to pack food parcels outside because of a lack of space.

The new base in Brazier's Wood Road, adjacent to Gainsborough Sports Centre, will give FIND a headquarters from which to run its foodbank and provide other items such as white goods, beds and school uniforms for struggling families.

However remodelling the former sports changing rooms will cost £300,000.

The charity has already raised about £85,000 and has another £30,000 pledged, but still needs to find approximately £250,000.

It has launched the FIND 50 appeal to encourage schools, companies and other organisations to each raise £2,000.

Mrs Reynel said: "It's fantastic to see the first beginnings of our new home and we can't wait to move in and help families, children and individuals who find themselves in poverty and crisis in the Ipswich area.

"I'd once again like to personally thank everyone who is supporting the fundraising and all the brilliant members of the building and construction trade who have come together to make this happen."

Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere said: "The council is a long-time supporter of FIND.

"We are very pleased to have been able to locate a suitable site for their new premises and help fund the redevelopment.

"We all now look forward to its completion and continuing valuable work in the community."

For more information about FIND and the FIND 50 appeal, visit www.findipswich.org.uk or email FIND50@genesispr.co.uk

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