“I’ve gone back to worrying about money everyday, battling to stay well mentally, and sad that so many of us will not have enough to get by.”
For claimants up and down the country, this is the stark reality that awaits them following the government’s planned £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit.
In the last week, families who received the £80 uplift have been notified via a number of messages in online accounts that their payments will fall from the beginning of October.
The temporary increase was introduced as part of a package of pandemic-related support measures announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak to help relieve the financial pressures on those affected by Covid-19.
Driven ‘further into debt’
Linda James, 62, a former teaching assistant, said the cut would force her to have to reduce her food budget and drive her further into debt.
Unable to work due to a diagnosis of arthritis, Linda claims she wasn’t notified that the £86 increase she received was temporary, and was simply added to her monthly payments without explanation.
“When I got an email telling me to sign into my account and then I read the notification, I felt sick,” she told TLE. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I rang my friend in tears and was shaking because I knew I would really struggle.
A number of charities warned that up to two million Universal Credit claimants were unaware of the reduction, with surveys indicating that between 18 per cent and 36 per cent did not know their income would fall.
“Throughout the summer, I’ve dropped my fuel direct debits and been able to put away £40 monthly toward a new fridge freezer. That won’t happen now. There will just be more debt added to the Argos card.”
Linda’s situation is by no means unique. The charity Citizens Advice revealed that the cut to Universal Credit could push more than 2 million into debt.
In a survey of over 2,000 people, more than a third said they would be pushed into the red after paying their essential bills, if their benefits drop by £20 a week.
Did you know that there are upcoming changes to Universal Credit? From October 6 payments are set to be cut by £20 a week.— CitizensAdvice (@CitizensAdvice) August 22, 2021
Find out more ⤵️ https://t.co/gqV2hUDr0f #KeepTheLifeline pic.twitter.com/TapuvTGhq6
Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Clare Moriarty, said: “A cut to Universal Credit this autumn will be a hammer blow to millions of people.
“It undermines our chance of a more equal recovery by tipping families into the red and taking money from the communities most in need.”
Meanwhile, research from The Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) shows that more than 660,000 low-paid key workers, including nurses, supermarket staff and social carers, will be among those affected with the uplift ends.
A ‘huge amount’
Another claimant, Sue Jones, said she was “gutted” about the news of the cuts, and claims she would be “homeless” without her Universal Credit payments.
“It’s a shameful feeling,” she told TLE. As a single parent suffering from two prolapsed discs, Jayne relies on the uplift to supplement her income which just about covers her rent and food bills.
Working part-time in the mental health sector, the £80 increase is a “huge amount for single-parent families like mine,” she claims. With two children, Sue Jones (not her real name) can easily spend around £60 to £70 a fortnight on food.
“The government is disconnected from reality,” Jayne adds. “The hopelessness is palpable.”
Meanwhile, a claimant from Northumberland told Citizens Advice that he has been forced to eat just one meal a day to ensure his son has enough to eat.
“I’m doing my very best to give him everything he needs but it’s a daily struggle. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope.
“My son is growing all the time, so he always needs something new but I just can’t afford it. I’ve had to cut back and pay the bare minimum in bills just to afford his school uniform.
According to anti-poverty campaigners, the extension has not gone far enough to prevent families from facing financial difficulties in the next year.
Recent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research has also shown that even claimants who are fully employed are facing financial strain, with one in six working households living in poverty.
‘Rely on own efforts’
Speaking to broadcasters last Thursday, the Prime Minister said it was his “strong preference” for people to see their wages rise through their own “efforts” rather than rely on “welfare”.
John Stevenson and Peter Aldous claimed there are “no sensible voices calling for Universal Credit to be scrapped” and called for the uplift to become permanent in order to provide people with “stability and security”.
They said: “This could be one of our best legacies from the pandemic and can provide the cornerstone of a social security system of which, as Conservatives, we can be proud.”
Analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that around a fifth of all working-age families in the country will be hit by the reduction.
Of the 413 constituencies set to be affected by the £1,040 a year cut, 191 are Conservative – 53 of which were newly won at the last general election or in a subsequent by-election.
Charlie Young, the project manager at Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, said: “So many families we’re helping are just about managing to scrape by. Take away £20 a week and you push them into the red. It’ll be devastating.
“We’re gearing up to provide more crisis support if the cut happens. That means food bank referrals, fuel vouchers and helping parents of babies and toddlers get access to nappies and milk.