Caroline Austin says: “This is Charlotte, my daughter, who has severe multiple sclerosis. She cant walk. She has a catheter, she can’t hold anything. She can’t feed herself, she’s weak. She has days where she can hardly talk or breathe properly. She is heat sensitive, the list goes on.
“I want as many people to see this …. universal credit has not given Charlotte any money since 29th September, despite me telling them [DWP] how severely disabled she is … even if she gets her money, she still will lose the severe disability allowance of £120.00 per month. I have to produce another sick note and they have said she could still be assessed for work. Our government should be ashamed.
“Charlotte could not go to a food bank even if she wanted to. Although I’ve tried to help as much as I can, she’s now fallen into arrears with some of her bills. It is shameful that the government will not accept her sick note been indefinately signed off. Our country should not be driving people into poverty because the system is failing the wrong people.
“I’m sure if given the choice of spending most of her time in bed or going to work, I’m sure Charlotte would love to work. As a mother, dealing with her illness and watching her suffer is hard. I’m now trying to sort this out too. All I can say is I stay strong for Charlotte, but some people don’t have this strength and that’s when they give up.”
Only around 1 in 10 universal credit claimants are unemployed, and those that are out of work typically get a job after 12 weeks. This was also true of unemployed people claiming job seeker’s allowance.
Universal credit is mainly a support for low income workers and people unable to work due to illness or because of caring responsibilities. Its scale is enormous, encompassing around 7 million families. These are people who cannot change their circumstances, yet the benefit conditionality of universal credit is extremely punitive. As families need more support because of extra costs, around half of all children in the UK will live in families exposed to the system of universal credit.
When universal credit has been rolled out in an area, Trussell Trust says that foodbank use goes up 52%. Rent arrears also increase. It is patently obvious that universal credit leads to huge increases in hardship for many families.
It is undeniable that universal credit causes hardship, anxiety and distress for many. There is a 5-week initial wait for a payment and other delays designed into the system. It’s apparently acceptable to the government that people spend 5 weeks with no means to meet their basic survival needs for food, fuel and shelter.
There are other delays and stoppages because the bureaucracy is failing citizens and is difficult to navigate. Budgeting problems arise because of the wildly varying payments and deductions.
And when people do get the benefit successfully, they are shocked to discover that actually, the amount is simply far too little to meet even their most basic living costs.
It’s almost as if the government have intentionally created a system that ensures people don’t have a moment’s peace. It’s as if Conservative ministers believe that keeping people in a state of profound anxiety, and in circumstances of uncertainty and precarity, with the constant threat of absolute poverty, it will all somehow combine ‘help’ people into work. Even though a large proportion of those claiming welfare support are actually already in work, yet these families are still very unacceptably poor.
Poverty and the threat of even deeper poverty has never ‘incentivised’ anyone into work. Abraham Maslow explained all to well that unless people meet their basic survival needs, they simply cannot fulfil psychosocial ones. Not only is universal credit making people’s lives unbearably awful, it is destroying their human potential, too.
Many problems are fundamentally designed in and are ongoing throughout the claim. As I’ve stated, most of those affected are disabled people who can’t work, those with caring responsibilities, in the longer term, and low paid workers with families. The problems are not going away and the government aren’t listening to legitimate concerns being raised over and over.
They are not putting safeguards in place for very vulnerable people like Charlotte.
Those who are yet to move onto universal credit are the longer term claimants. That includes lots of low paid families with children and, really worryingly, people with the most debilitating long-term health conditions, like Charlotte. The problems are going to become catastrophic unless the government listens and makes changes to the existing system. But to date, the Conservatives have fundamentally refused to take any responsibility for their own punitive policy, and the DWP have developed a ‘fortress mentality’ when it comes to legitimate concerns and criticisms being raised.
A recent devastating National Audit Office report into universal credit concluded that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary Esther McVey felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.
It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.
It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition. And the United Nations.
Universal credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.
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