Socialist Worker

Universal Credit claimants living in poverty during pandemic

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2731

Claimants can wait for over five weeks before receiving a payment

Claimants can wait over five weeks before receiving a payment


The Tory benefits system is causing “immense misery” for millions of people in Britain, a TUC report has found.

The report, published this week, looked at the impact of forcing new Universal Credit (UC) claimants to wait five weeks for their first payment.

It contained harrowing stories.

One woman told the report, “I suffered a miscarriage and didn’t go to the hospital for three days because I could not afford bus fare or parking and was unable to walk.”

Another claimant said, “Food for the last two weeks was tight but if you count 500-ish calories on some days I did manage to eat.”

Someone else “had to resort to having a meal a day”. “Had to cut down on tea—couldn’t afford milk,” they said. “For four weeks, no tea.”

The Tories say that new claimants can apply for advance payments while they wait for their benefit to arrive. They say no one needs to be without money.

Universal Credit claimant has payments snatched
Universal Credit claimant has payments snatched
  Read More

But this is then deducted from people’s money—driving them into further poverty and debt, which pushes many to try and avoid claiming it.

Some 86 percent of those responding to the TUC survey said getting an advance payment had put more pressure on their budget.

One said, “It was too long to wait for payment so had an advance—then pay back £70 a month which is a lot.”

Another said they were “still struggling month to month” partly due to deductions to cover an advance payment. “After we’ve paid our bills, we’ve got £35 for food, gas and electric,” they said.

“How is that viable?”

The growing economic crisis means many more people will be plunged into a similar position. Over a million advance payments were made to new claimants between the start of lockdown in March and 23 June.

Many claimants told the TUC they had been forced to use food banks or borrow money from elsewhere to get by. Never-ending stress about not having enough money means one in ten respondents said they’d suffered mental health problems.

And being treated like dirt is “humiliating” for claimants.

"It was very stressful and mentally exhausting,” said one. “I found the whole experience to be unjust, shaming and totally unapologetic throughout.”

Suffering

Another UC claimant was suffering “constant worry that I won’t be able to afford gas or electric when it runs out”.

Being forced to go five weeks without money is bad enough. But some said their wait was even longer.

“My partner made a tiny error on her form and after almost five weeks we contacted to see why nothing was happening,” said one respondent.

They ended up with a “ten week wait”. They were not the only ones.

As the Tories continue to refuse to contain coronavirus—and rising unemployment—many more working class people will face this horrific welfare system.

Official figures show that some 5.7 million people were claiming UC on 8 October. This is a 90 percent rise, or 2.7 million, from the three million who were claiming on 12 March.

The TUC rightly said that UC should be scrapped. But the Tories won’t drop one of their flagship policies without a fight.

We urgently need resistance to demand a humane benefits system and to stop the jobs massacre.

The TUC survey ran from 19 May to 12 June this year, with 386 responses. Read the full report here

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