If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been speaking about Universal Credit for a while now, and had expressed my fears about our family being transferred over to this new system.
Although started in 2013, the horrors of UC only started to come to light in 2017, but even now it isn’t spoken about often or loud enough for everyone to understand the pressure those who rely on benefits to survive are experiencing currently. I want to raise awareness and get people talking and actively fighting to have this disgusting, oppressive system taken down.
The application process
When my marriage broke down, I knew that reporting the new circumstances to Tax Credits would mostly result in being transferred over to Universal Credit. As soon as I made that phone call, I knew this would stop all payments from tax credits for the next 6 weeks. Completing the application is no fucking joke. It is really, really hard. It’s lengthy and asks for information about everything. You also have to make time to visit the job centre twice. So if you’re working or a student, this means time off from work or University.
Being a university student is a bit of a ‘grey area’ as the work coach explained. I was told that it would top up my student finance and would cover my rent etc, but they’re really sorry that I had to come in again and explain that I’m a full time nursing student and they know it’s unfair that I’m at a ‘work focused’ interview, but they can’t avoid it – I still have to come in.
I dropped into a one stop centre recently before I found out my monthly payment from UC, and in the queue in front of me a man explained to me the financial difficulty he now faced. He was the full time carer for his disabled wife and son. They were now penniless for 6 weeks, they couldn’t afford to eat. He was crying because he was scared of them being hungry and further down the line homeless as they wouldn’t be able to pay off their arrears. The man behind the desk looked very sympathetic but just kept repeating the same thing ‘you can apply for an advance payment’
The advance payment! What a great scheme. In those six weeks of severe poverty, you are able to apply for money to be brought forward. I believe it’s upwards of a grand you can apply for. This is before you know the amount you are going to be entitled too. You then choose a timeframe in which you are going to pay this back. So for example, I borrowed £400 to pay towards my rent, that is being paid back at £33 a month, which is a huge cut out of the £180 I have been awarded a month. It’s a double edged sword. Suffer now or suffer further down the line. So, if you are expecting an award similar to your tax credits and take a higher loan out, and are then awarded much less – you are having a huge cut of your money taken from you every month.
The DWP have their own hoops you must jump through to prove your disability. To get the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) you have to score 12 points in their assessments. It is not your own GP or consultant that scores you, it is another ‘health professional’ when they complete their report the DWP ‘decision maker’ decides what you are entitled too and for how long. There are many disturbing cases where disabled people have had their payments stripped from them as they are deemed fit to work. Channel 4 recently aired a documentary ‘Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits’ which followed those on UC in Hartlepool. I usually avoid thing benefit-porny, as they are made for entertainment and edited to show people in poverty, in the worst possible light. This documentary was less like this. It showed real people, real humans in this very country trying to live off nothing a month. A man almost totally blind was deemed fit to work and sanctioned for not reaching the amount of job applications you must apply for within a set time, his sanctions left him with £5 a month. £5 fucking pounds. Could you insult someone anymore than that?
Your first sanction for not adhering to the UC guidelines lasts for 91 days, your second 182 days and for your third…..1095 days. That’s THREE years. Where is the humanity in that? Sanctions are given after missing work focused appointments, or not doing what was asked of you in preparation for work. Not crimes, missing appointments.
Other ridiculous things about universal credit
You can’t phone them. You have to login to your account and write a message on your ‘online journal’, I don’t know about others experiences of this but that’s a pain in the neck too. You don’t get the ‘reply within 2 working days’ you are lead to believe.
People to contact if you are struggling with UC
Although mine has still not been sorted and I’m currently facing losing my house as I cannot afford the rent anymore, I am now in contact with my MP who has so far been empathetic and helpful. I’ve appealed my amount, and hope for some good news sooner rather than later, but for many it is too late. We are being penalised for needing help. Others have found help within the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
We are being oppressed and pushed into a bracket where we cannot progress. Money doesn’t create happiness, but it allows freedom and a chance to change your circumstances, but with no spare change and debt building up at the end of the month it can cause people to sink into the darkest days, and pushes people into situations they would rather be out of but with no financial freedom they have no choice.
I believe this blog post and others on UC are important to those who are facing this too, so they don’t feel alone and it’s important for those who have never experienced financial crisis and had to rely on such a treacherous system to use their voices also and stand up for the humanity that everyone deserves.