Maida Vale foodbank boss fears spike of users if universal credit is reduced

North Paddington Foodbank manager James Quayle

North Paddington Foodbank manager James Quayle - Credit: James Quayle

A Maida Vale foodbank fears that plans to cut universal credit will cause hundreds more people to need emergency support. 

At the start of the pandemic, the government boosted the amount of money people get for universal credit by an “uplift” of £20 a week – or about £1,000 a year. 

But plans to take away that £20 from April 1 have concerned charities and grassroots groups including North Paddington Foodbank, based in Elgin Avenue.  

The centre’s manager James Quayle, 31, said: “At the height of the first lockdown we were helping 1,200 to 1,300 people a week.  

“If the uplift is taken away, we could hit those first lockdown numbers again, and [that could happen] if this lockdown continues for an extended period of time. That’s what we’re preparing for.” 

North Paddington Foodbank is facing shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Owen Sheppard

People using the foodbank last March, just before the first lockdown - Credit: Archant

He added: “I think the cut is very significant. The uplift had a big impact on people who would otherwise have been using our services. So we would have been even busier.” 

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond to ensure that nobody is left behind.  

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“That’s why we’ve targeted our support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and introducing the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.” 

Between 2017 and 2020, the rollout of universal credit was being blamed for a rise in demand for food banks because new claimants had to wait a minimum of five weeks for their first payment. The government later made “urgent advances” available. 

Universal credit is a merger of six other benefit types. It is managed by claimants using an online account. 

“We’re open all week and two-thirds of our food parcels go out as deliveries, and one-third are collections by appointment,” said James. 

“It’s become harder for us to carry on because our staff and volunteers have had to self-isolate for a time.  

“Sixty staff days have been done at home in the last month as opposed to zero in the first eight months.” 

On January 18, Labour MPs voted to extend the universal credit increase, with the Conservatives abstaining a non-binding vote.