Universal Credit: ‘Cruel and flawed’ – says Unite

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Marchers outside Parliament demanding the stopping of the roll-out Universal Credit

A bombshell report and survey of nearly 1,200 claimants by the union Unite lays bare the misery caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The report and survey called Universal Credit: Not fit for Purpose, powerfully captures the catastrophic toll of the new benefit on people’s lives and families.

‘This cruel and flawed system which penalises families who are trying to make ends meet and keep a roof above their head must be scrapped,’ Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said at the report’s launch at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Monday.

‘Universal Credit is causing untold misery and heartache for people across the country,’ he warned.

‘Its failed introduction is leading to people becoming suicidal and going without food, or being forced into debt and unable to pay the bills.

‘Universal Credit is not just an issue that affects people out of work. At the beginning of the year over 530,000 employed people were receiving Universal Credit in a “corporate welfare” cash grab to top up poverty wages.’

The survey of 1,173 claimants found that 70% had skipped meals and 42% had been forced to use a food bank as result of claiming Universal Credit.

Two-thirds (65%) could not afford bills such as heating, electricity and water, and over three-quarters (78%) relied on friends and family to make ends meet.

Nearly half (48%) had been pushed into debt, 19% forced to turn to payday loan companies and 8% to loan sharks, to make ends meet.

Over a quarter (27%) were unable to buy school uniforms or equipment for their children, while 26% could not afford school trips.

Comments from Universal Credit claimants

‘I can’t afford to buy food, so I have to go to my mum’s for food; it’s an absolute disgrace and disgusting.’

‘The money is no way near enough. You can’t afford your bills. It is terrible. It is simply not enough to coverrent, council tax, electric, water, utilities and have any left over for food.’

‘I am an insulin dependent diabetic. During the heatwave of 2015, including the hottest days on record, I was placed in debt, rent arrears and threatened with eviction because Universal Credit refused to help and it took three months with help from my MP to get my first payment. I had no electricity and my fridge – a lifeline for my insulin was off because my electric had been cut for non-payment (due to Universal Credit!).

‘I was told by my first Work Coach “I don’t care if you need to have a fridge for your insulin, I can make you get a weekly prescription and if your insulin spoils you have to get another one. I don’t care if you can’t afford a fridge; it’s a luxury item, your problem”!’

Many reported relying on charity, food banks, savings and selling or pawning personal items to survive.

‘I have seen the impact on young people and people with mental health issues who cannot manage their money and end up losing their homes gambling to try to get out of trouble, stealing from one another in order to buy food for children, risking their personal safety in order to survive.’

‘It’s disgusting! You have no option but to get in debt with Universal Credit unless you work also. People are breaking the law to survive and it’s shocking. I can’t believe my kids have to grow up in this society. I don’t live anymore, I just survive.’

‘As soon as I moved to Universal Credit I felt poorer and more degraded than I did when I was on benefits. I have to go to food banks, I can’t afford petrol to get to work, I work without any food or anything to drink all day and I struggle to feed my children. It’s degrading and I feel like going to work is pointless when I am this poor. I can’t pay my bills and I am now in debt and if I am struggling how on earth are people who are disabled and those who can’t work coping?’

‘The five weeks wait left me in rent arrears and my landlord served me with an eviction notice because of this. Paying back the advance payment only made things worse with trying to get back on track with my debts that had built up over the five weeks while I waited.’

‘I was on working tax credits and child tax credits for over seven years and never fell into debt or struggled to pay my rent let alone feed the kids and myself until I was moved on to Universal Credit.’

‘Me and my family have worked all our lives and still we have been treated like nothing and dirt on shoes. Sorry, but this subject is so emotional and ruined our lives so it’s very hard to write about, but we feel like we have to as we never wish the months we were starving and all this debt on anyone.

‘Anyone who moves to Universal Credit has to find a way to borrow during that first six weeks and then they only give you the least amount they think you can live off but obviously take off any money they “lend you” and ignore the bills you have going out already so we have been left with £10 a week after all the bills, which means we have to live off food bank contributions. It is disgusting and has to change.’

Many reported on the toll that Universal Credit was taking on their mental health – including stress depression and, in several cases, suicidal thoughts and

attempted suicide.

‘Since we were forced on Universal Credit I’ve tried to commit suicide three times (before Universal Credit I’d never tried this once). Me and my eight year old have had to spend a month living off crackers and tins or frozen veg in a bowl on their own for meals.’

‘On more than one occasion my depression has been low enough that I’ve considered suicide but the only thing that has stopped me is my kids, I worry that without me they’d end up in a much worse place.’

‘I have four young children to support and the thought of having no money to feed them has led me to thoughts of suicide.’

‘The idea behind it I agreed with at the time but in practice it has been an absolute nightmare to have to deal with and caused me so much hardship and stress that I contemplated suicide on a daily basis.’

‘I can seriously say that the impersonal, bureaucratic and inhuman way Universal Credit was imposed on me nearly pushed me into suicide. The only reason I didn’t call it a day was that it would have destroyed my teenage daughter’s life too.’

‘It is not universal and it is certainly not of any credit to anyone, and is why we are seeing a rise in food banks, fuel banks and baby banks. It is why new mothers are choosing to leave their new born babies in hospital. It is why people are dying on the streets, homeless and destitute. It is why my severely disabled best friend reached the conclusion that she no longer had a life and killed herself.’

Reasons why people have been sanctioned

‘Wife received holiday pay while on the sick after having treatment for Cancer and they deemed it salary.’

‘They sanctioned me for not sending a doctors note in because someone at Jobcentre Plus kept “losing” my evidence. Another advisor “found” them, and it hasn’t happened since.’

‘They said they hadn’t received forms sent to me and stopped benefit. After two months they said they had them but had gone to the wrong department.’

‘They said I had been paid by my employer when my employment had finished 2 months prior.’

‘Sanctioned because they said I didn’t go to appointment, but I was there and local Jobcentre Plus told me it’d been cancelled without my knowledge and moved to an earlier time.’

‘Partner’s work entered wages wrong and they thought we earned double the wage he was on, so we got nothing for two months.’

‘My partner missed an appointment as he was offered a day’s work. Sanctioned for over six months on a high level which was his entire personal allowance.’

‘My child got ill and I couldn’t attend a meeting, so they sanctioned me. I was told I could have brought them along or got someone to look after them.’

‘It was deemed that my partner had given up his job voluntarily prior to claiming. I appealed and had it overturned after MASSIVE stress.’

‘I went to my son’s to help with childcare over Christmas. They said I didn’t try hard enough to look for work. I was 200 miles from home with no access to a computer.’

‘I was sanctioned for attending my sister’s funeral even though I let them know on my journal a fortnight previously I needed my appointment changing. I have also just been sanctioned £420 for being late to an appointment which wasn’t mandatory.’

‘I was in prison and when I came out DWP said I’d missed appointments.’

‘I was in hospital unable to attend interview. Apparently, chemotherapy isn’t a good enough excuse.’

‘I volunteered with a charity to help underprivileged children for a week. They cut me off as I was not looking for work during that time.’

‘I have diabetes and had a doctor’s appointment that they knew about in advance, but they still insisted on giving me an appointment. I was 10 mins late but still sanctioned.’

‘I forgot to tick a box when I uploaded my childcare costs. I ticked it the next day but as the upload was considered a day late, they refused to reimburse the 85% I’m supposed to get back.’

‘I attended an interview, but the computer system had crashed so my attendance couldn’t be recorded, my claim was cancelled the next day for non-attendance.

‘Staff acknowledged their error but can’t reverse a closed claim.’

‘I am deaf and as they demanded I make a call yet couldn’t due to the hearing issues they left us for months without food.’