Sheffield church leaders fear hundreds of people could be pushed over the breadline, leaving city food banks struggling to meet demand, with the rollout of Universal Credit.
Sheffield Church Action on Poverty staged its annual pilgrimage which is designed to raise awareness and understanding of how poverty is affecting people.
Organisers say this year’s pilgrimage was particularly timely as there are reports nationwide that 580,000 people are at risk of losing benefit payments.
Universal Credit is being rolled out in Sheffield this month. The new payment replaces six existing benefits for people without work or on low pay.
Nick Waterfield, from Sheffield Church Action on Poverty, said: “Food banks were never designed to cope with the sort of demand they could now be facing.
“It is a real challenge and could impact on parts of the more affluent areas of Sheffield, where there are currently no food banks.”
Major foodbank organiser the Trussell Trust reports a 52 per cent increase in the number of people visiting their food banks in the year after the introduction of Universal Credit as well as rising levels of debt, destitution, delays and poor administration.
Guy Opperman MP, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, says Universal Credit will “fix the failing system”.
He said: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the promise to provide support to those who really need it. Universal Credit is simpler and better targeted then previous welfare systems. It incentivises work just like all of our welfare reforms since 2010.”
The pilgrimage visited Norfolk Park, Wybourn, Skye Edge, the Manor and Manor Fields, before ending at St Aidan’s Church on Manor Lane.
Stops on the way included Our Lady Queen of Heaven and St Oswald’s Catholic Church – one of the churches looked after by the Cathedral Church of St Marie – as well as the foodbank at St Swithun’s Church on the Manor.
The pilgrimage was part of the End Hunger Campaign, which says ‘it is simply not right that many people in Britain don’t have access to good food and have to go to bed hungry.’
End Hunger UK has launched a petition to call upon the Government to fix Universal Credit, so that it does not leave people at risk of debt or destitution.