IN June, The Northern Echo revealed that food banks in County Durham have been stockpiling supplies of groceries to prepare for the rollout of Universal Credit in the county this month.

The same article contained the results of research by Durham University which found that delays in the payment of benefits are the single biggest cause of people turning to food banks.

In Darlington, where Universal Credit has already been introduced, new food bank registrations have risen 50 per cent since the start of the year, officials said.

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The latest Government figures show that 23 per cent of new claimants do not receive their first full payment within six weeks.

Monday's announcement by Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke that people are to be offered advance payments to tide them over while they await their money is finally an admission that something needs to change.

However, the news will be cold comfort to those hit by delayed payments who have been left queuing at a food bank to feed their family, or trying to persuade their landlord that rent arrears will be short-term.

The pace of the rollout is increasing this autumn – in December it is coming to Bishop Auckland, Consett, Crook and Stanley, and in March to Chester-le-Street, Durham, Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor.

Mr Gauke’s tweaks to the system do not address the wider concerns about the implementation of the benefit, and his refusal to pause the rollout while these problems are ironed out risks even more people getting into serious debt.

Perhaps he should try listening to the warnings from those running food banks in our region, rather than burying his head in the sand and repeatedly trotting out the line “Universal Credit is working.”