At a meeting organised by local Labour MP Lesley Laird, volunteer groups, including Kirkcaldy Foodbank and Citizens Advice Rights Fife (CARF), described the human cost of changes to the welfare system since Universal Credit was rolled out in Fife in 2017.
All reported a huge increase in demand on services from people affected by sanctions or waiting weeks for a first payment. According to Fife Economy Partnership’s latest figures, 7,422 people in Fife are registered as Universal Credit claimants seeking work.
Kirkcaldy Foodbank chairwoman Joyce Leggate said more and more families are in crisis, adding: “We used to provide a service for people with acute need, now it is chronic support. We’ve got people coming every week for a year and we see the mental health of people deteriorating – their heads are down, they’re beaten by the system.”
Groups also reported that large families are separating because they cannot afford to live together, while others are deliberately committing crime to return to jail while front line services and charities are struggling to meet an upsurge in demand.
Liz Easton of Kirkcaldy YMCA said: “When you apply for funding all you hear is ‘how little you can do this for? It’s a race to the bottom.”
Mrs Laird said the picture painted made for grim reading, “a litany of despair” which starkly illustrated how Universal Credit is harming health, consigning children to a life of poverty and damaging communities.
QV has previously reported unprecedented demand experienced by foodbanks in Notrth East Fife.
North East Fife Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie demanded changes to the “dismal” system, after new figures revealed more than 1,000 Fife Council tenants have slipped into rent arrears since its roll out.
Mr Rennie found, under a Freedom of Information request, that of the 5,606 Universal Credit claimants in council housing, 3,761 are now in rent arrears, owning sums up to £5,621, including more than 1,000 who were not in arrears prior to the benefits change.
“Since its introduction in Fife is has been a dismal failure, pushing hundreds of families into rent arrears,” he said. People have every right to demand better.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our research shows that many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears, but that number falls by a third after four months. The reasons for people using food banks are complex. Meanwhile for those who need extra support, the UK Government spends over £90 billion including those who are on a low income. In addition, Scotland, has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”
Image: Trussell Trust