Benefits Mental Health

Universal Credit Is Ruining Lives

I was employed full time averaging 40 hours a week until the end of last year. I didn’t require help but the hours I was working was starting to cause problems with Ethan’s behaviour. To be honest it was doing more harm than good to my health and my family life. Universal Credits was meant to fix this issue.

I have since gone part time and now work 16 hours a week. I did the usual benefit calculators before leaving my previous job and saw I would be better off this way by all accounts. I thought it was going to make my life easier and less stressful. I thought I might actually have some money to save and get myself out of debt.

Let’s go back to the start for new readers – I am a single parent and have been for all of Ethan’s life.

single parent is a person who lives with a child or children and who does not have a wife, husband or live-in partner

So I completed my Universal Credit application in advance of requiring it as I know the do take a while to complete and process. I went to my “local” job centre and had high hopes that I would be better off. I left my meeting feeling positive and was told I would receive my first payment only a few days later. The payment came in as expected on the Friday. I didn’t think my luck could get much worse – until I saw the payment amount.

This is when the problem’s started as my payment was £1000 less than I was expecting. I couldn’t afford my bills but I managed to pay my rent leaving me with zero money for 4 weeks.

I rang the Universal Credits Helpline and was told to go to my “local” job centre for an appointment which they would help me and get it sorted. I was warned it is not a quick fix, it can take weeks.

My local job centre that that I have been assigned is 2 hours away by train ( I don’t drive) and I can’t go to the one half hour away as it’s in the next county. Despite being able to attend there when I was pregnant and until Ethan was 3 years old. An average round trip to a meeting takes me 4 hours and costs me £15.00. I don’t get my train fare back and I have to sort out childcare so an average trip to my job centre costs me at least £20. This is money that I don’t have to spare and have to borrow from family so I can attend.

This particular appointment fell across a rail replacement weekend and my weekend with Ethan so it took 2 hours longer and I had to pay for my son to travel too. I went to my appointment and was told there is nothing they could do and that the payment is correct. I am left with no money for bills and no money for food.

I am lucky enough to have my parents who helped to stock our cupboards but that left me with bills to pay and no money to pay them.

I have had two payments up to now and I am still being underpaid and not receiving any help with my council tax or my bills. I have since been back to the job centre 3 times and spent £45 on travel and spent 12 hours travelling to my appointments.

Payments from Universal Credit come every 4 weeks direct to your bank account. In my own experience you only know the amount you are being paid a few days before or on the day as its based on a time frame. They state they cannot calculate the amount until that time frame is finished. Sometimes your journal doesn’t get updated either which is what happened to me last month.

If like me you work and if your salary date falls before your payments then it makes paying bills and working out what you have to spend difficult. You are not guaranteed to get the same amount each Universal Credit payment and there is no way for you to work it out. You cannot budget that money into your monthly income due to this.

I cannot spend any of my wages until I know how much Universal Credit I am receiving to make sure I cover my rent. Moving over to Universal Credit has resulted in me having final demands coming in left, right and centre due to not being paid enough to cover my bills. I live in fear of my electric being cut off in the middle of the night and that I will have bailiffs knocking on my door. I have called the companies and tried to explain but there is only so much slack they can give you and so many times they can push the date longer.

The job centre does not care if you cannot afford electricity, gas or your council tax bill. It doesn’t care if you cannot afford food and when you ask for the local food bank they tell you to phone a number and ask them. They don’t provide any help with overdue bills and they don’t care how much it cost you to get there that day.

I don’t blame the people behind the desks at all and it’s not aimed at them directly – I blame the system they have to work with and the government.

At my most recent appointment I had to attend I walked in crying and whilst trying to explain my situation to an adviser and her advice was to use a credit card. Honestly her advice was to get a credit card and use that. I was gobsmacked that she was issuing advice like this.

she didn’t understand why I couldn’t afford my rent because I got my payment. Surely I must have money if I got my payment. she didn’t understand that I got up at 6.30am to be there for 9am that morning. she didn’t care that British Gas were risking to cut me off and she didn’t seem to care that I couldn’t get the food stamps that I needed. she just had to get me to tick a box and go on my merry way.

I am hoping that this month’s payment is correct as I can’t take another month of final demands and no food in the cupboards. I can’t take another month of checking my bank account and seeing minus figures. It is soul destroying and starting to affect my mental health more each day.

I’m not the only one who is suffering under this system, its all over the news and all over social media. It’s making people with illnesses worse and it’s leaving people homeless. The top 10 search results about Universal Credit all state that there is a problem in the system.

It has taken various different benefits with all different requirements and needs and combined it into one. This is due to it apparently mimicking a salary. It has been done without thinking through what is actually required and how it was going to work in a system that constantly needs changing and updating. Each person claiming Universal Credit is doing it for various reasons and we don’t all fit under one umbrella. It is punishing those who choose to work despite it stating “It Pays To Work” but it is also punishing those out of work due to constantly changing payment amounts and the required items in order to pay out.

How can anyone be expected to pay rent, bills and live on an amount money that is constantly changing. When I mention payment amounts changing I am not talking about pennies, I am talking about £500 – £1000 each month. I am talking about a whole months wage for someone who is working.

Universal Credit is a poorly thought out system that has major holes in the system. It could of been effective if research had been done effectively and if the correct procedures were followed when creating the format of the benefit. It has been linked to an increase in depression and anxiety amongst claimants and there has been various 2018 studies that have linked it to suicide.

2021 UPDATE

If you get paid every 4 weeks like myself then you have the issue of one payment being less than the rest or nothing at all as they see it as you have been paid twice in one month. Anyone who gets paid 4 weekly knows that there isn’t exactly money left over to cover this.

I am not talking little amounts either my first payment like this was £600 short and the job centre don’t warn you either. I have to make sure I save £100 at least each month this year to allow for it to happen again as I cannot physically afford my rent without my UC amount. I also can’t afford to be saving that much each month but it has to be done because of their system.

The universal credit system has not improved since I wrote this post back in 2019 and it is at breaking this point due to COVID. It is a shambles. Honestly.

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