AFTER years of denying the evidence, the Tories have finally admitted that Universal Credit has forced more people to rely on food banks.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd stunned MPs yesterday when she admitted that Universal Credit had “led to an increase in food bank use”.

“It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit and the main issue which led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact people had difficulty accessing their money early enough,” she told the House of Commons.

“We have made changes to accessing Universal Credit so that people can have advances, so that there is a legacy run-on after two weeks of housing benefit and we believe that will help with food insecurity.”

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The comments were supported by Number 10, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman telling reporters: “We have long acknowledged that there were issues with the initial rollout of Universal Credit.

“That’s why we have listened and made improvements, such as extending advances, removing waiting days and introducing Housing Benefit run-on.

“These changes are giving support to vulnerable people who need it most, while at the same time helping people get into work faster.”

Despite the UK’s biggest food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, having, for years, told ministers that the change to benefits was absolutely behind a massive increase in people coming through their doors, the government has always denied any link.

Even when the House of Commons’ public accounts committee published a report last October saying there was a link, ministers said the hike could not be put “down to any one reason”.

Last November, the trust revealed that it had distributed more than 650,000 food parcels in the past six months – a year-on-year increase of 13%. In areas where the full Universal Credit service had been in place for 12 months or more, the trust recorded an average 52% increase in the number of three-day emergency food packages distributed.

They said this was in part because new claimants had to wait at least five weeks for their first payment.

The trust said more than a fifth of referrals to its network of 428 food banks were generated as a result of claimants facing delays in benefit payments. Nearly a third of this group were waiting specifically for a first Universal Credit payment.

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The SNP’s George Adam said the admission was “long overdue”.

The MP said: “The Tories ‘flagship’ welfare policy simply isn’t working, and it’s now abundantly clear that the welfare cuts inflicted by the Tories on people across Scotland are directly forcing vulnerable people into poverty.

“It is a disgrace that this botched Tory policy is leaving millions of families poorer and worse off – cutting incomes, forcing claimants to go without money and driving families to food banks in order to survive.”

Meanwhile, Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss raised the case of a constituent pushed into poverty by Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) debt repayments.

The National: SNP MP Alison Thewliss told of her constituent's struggleSNP MP Alison Thewliss told of her constituent's struggle

The Treasury had demanded her constituent pay back a year’s worth of tax credits at a rate of £11 a month, but when she switched to Universal Credit, and the debt became the responsibility of the DWP, the repayments jumped to nearly £80 a month.

Her constituent, who asked not to be named, told The National she had been left with so little money that she could not afford to pay for gas to heat her flat over the winter.

Thewliss told MPs: “It is really difficult to resolve this case due to a lack of communication between the Treasury and the DWP.”

She warned that the issue would “only get worse as universal credit rolls out”

The Glasgow Central MP asked the minister why his department was “treating people more harshly than the Treasury is”.

Guy Opperman, a junior minister at the DWP, told Thewliss that “the Minister for Employment is looking into” her constituent’s case.