Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has conceded that the rollout of universal credit has contributed to an increase in food bank use, going back on previous ministerial claims that this was not the case.
Answering a ministerial question in the Commons about food insecurity and universal credit, the controversial all-in-one working age benefits system that replaces a series of individual payments, Rudd said the system had been improved.
???We are committed to a strong safety net where people need it,??? Rudd said in response to a question from Labour???s Sharon Hodgson. ???It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of universal credit, and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.???
Rudd added: ???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 that will help with food and security.???
Following up her question, Hodgson said she had interviewed people for an ongoing inquiry into food insecurity, and that the overall reasons were complex. She added: ???But they are telling me that universal credit is making their situation worse, not better.???
Rudd, the former home secretary who has pledged a more humane approach to the benefits system since taking the work and pensions job in November, said: ???I believe and hope that the changes we have made in terms of accessing early funds will have reduced insecurity, but of course I will take an early interest in the report that she is producing.???
Universal credit has faced persistent criticism that its complexity and, in particular, delays to initial payments, have caused many people making new claims or moving from other benefits to go into debt, with some needing to use food banks.
When he was a junior work and pensions minister, Damian Hinds, now the education secretary, said he did not expect the further rollout of universal credit to mean more people having to use food banks.