UP TO 79,000 people in the North East fear they will be forced to skip meals if cuts to Universal Credit payments are approved.

A further 84,000 people in the region fear being unable to heat their homes this winter and 56,000 say they’ll need to use a food bank if the cut goes ahead, according to a new report by the Trussell Trust.

The charity has published a new survey which reveals the devastating impacts that a £20-a-week cut from Universal Credit payments next month will have for North East residents.

The cut to social security is set to be the biggest since the Second World War and will be a huge blow for thousands of families in the region both in and out of work.

New research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust finds that one in four people currently claiming Universal Credit in the region – representing 79,000 people – say they are ‘very likely’ to need to skip meals when the cut hits.

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The Northern Echo: Ruth Fox, from Redcar Food BankRuth Fox, from Redcar Food Bank

Ruth Fox, CEO at Footprints in the Community, which runs Redcar Area Foodbank, said she and her team of staff and volunteers did not know how people would cope with the upcoming cut when they were already struggling to feed themselves.

“We’re expecting an avalanche of people to come through the doors of the food bank in October, if the government goes ahead with its plan to cut Universal Credit,” she said.

“The pandemic has already hit lots of families hard and we’re seeing people from every walk of life coming through the doors of the food bank here in Redcar.

“It’s not unusual to see families where both parents have lost their jobs – people working in hotels, hospitality or bricklayers on construction sites – and this cut will make the situation worse. For lots of people, taking away the £20 a week could be the difference between having a hot meal one day or not.”

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The Trussell Trust is part of a coalition of 100 organisations that is urgently calling on the government to stop the cut as part of the Keep the Lifeline campaign.

It comes amid growing need at food banks during the pandemic, as well as year-on-year increases in numbers of emergency food parcels distributed to people who are living in crisis. 

Writing in The Northern Echo this week Labour MPs from the North East urged the government to maintain the support.

“While Universal Credit (UC) remains a deeply flawed system that must be replaced, the uplift in payments has been a lifeline to many during the pandemic,” they said.

“We have all been contacted by constituents on UC who detailed just how important the money is to them and their families, and it is clear that the cut will have a profound impact.

“In total, it will deprive families in our region of around £41m a year and around 160,000 children in the region will be impacted by the decision.”

The MPs said the cut would jeopardise the current levelling up ambitions in the North and those whose finances were strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic would face further setbacks.

“The government simply cannot look to our region and talk about levelling up while having so little regard for the economic impact of this cut,” the MPs added.

“We believe that to slash support for the most vulnerable in our society would be wrong at the best of times, but to do so during a pandemic is indefensible.

“We urge you to do the right thing, support working people, and cancel your cut to Universal Credit.”

The Northern Echo: Peter Gibson MPPeter Gibson MP

However, Conservative MP for Darlington Peter Gibson defended the reduction.

He said: "It isn't a cut but an ending of support that was extended until the end of the furlough scheme. Nobody can say the government haven't supported people."

"If this temporary increase was to be extended that's another £7billion a year that the Government would be absorbing."

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