More people have become reliant on foodbanks in Bolton as a study reveals that poor families are deeper in poverty than they were seven years ago. But what part is controversial benefits system Universal Credit playing in families’ need for handouts? LIV CLARKE reports.

“I FEEL lower than low ­— the system isn’t working and I feel it’s only going to get worse.”

Daniel Smith, from Little Lever began using a foodbank in October, following his enrolment onto Universal Credit.

He uses the foodbank provided at Urban Outreach once a fortnight and also visits the soup kitchen run at Le Mans Crescent by Homeless Aid UK.

He’s stuck in a vicious cycle of debt and is having to rely on family for somewhere to sleep.

The 30-year-old former labourer said: “Universal Credit has completely wiped me out. I have gone from £1300 to £634 per month. It’s put me in a lot of debt.

“I cannot pay back my loans, my credit card or my rent money.

“I’m currently sofa surfing between my mum and my brothers, because of Universal Credit I lost my flat. They didn’t notify me when I didn’t pay my flat rent, I only found out when the landlord changed the locks.”

Mr Smith used to work in labouring but could no longer work after he fell ill with mental health issues. He now sees the mental health nurse every week. He obtains food vouchers from the Citizens Advice Bureau which he uses at the food bank and soup kitchen.

He said: “Universal Credit is making everything 10 times worse. It is depressing me greatly.”

Figures released by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) show that poor families are on average £73 a week below the poverty line once housing costs are taking into account.

It coincides with the broadcast of the BBC’s documentary Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State.

The show revealed the issues surrounding Universal Credit, a single payment designed to replace six benefits and tax credits including Income Support and Housing Benefit, with the final episode being filmed in Bolton.

Problems occur because the money is issued in one monthly payment, leading to people struggling to budget and plan their finances.

In the final episode, Paula from Bolton struggled to cope after she spent the £1,200 advance payment loan she received prior to the first instalment of Universal Credit after the five week wait.

This left her with insufficient money to cover living costs.

The Department for Work and Pensions revealed that in November 2019 33,225 households in the Northwest were receiving Universal Credit.

The majority of these households, 49.9%, were single adults with no depending children. The second largest group of Universal Credit recipients, at 36.3% were single parent households with depending children.

Billa Ahmed, one of the founders of Homeless Aid UK, said they have seen more people attending their soup kitchen in the last 12 months.

The organisation provides support for homeless people in Bolton and Manchester, as well as offering help to those who are living in poverty.

They currently run a soup kitchen at Le Mans Crescent which is available to those who are referred by different organisations such as the Job Centre, Bolton Housing and the Citizens Advice Bureau, that way they can be sure that the person is in need.

Mr Ahmed said: “There’s been a definite increase with the amount of people using the soup kitchen.

“These people have run out of money so they to go through our service to get food. Anybody who is struggling, sanctioned and people that are homeless and rough sleeping are referred to us.

"Some of them feel that they’re banging their head against a wall, they end up in the situation and they do not know what to do. The numbers fluctuate ­— after Christmas people get hit with a lot more debt.”

Homeless Aid works in Bolton, Manchester and Liverpool.