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Universal credit cuts mean it’s ‘heat or eat’

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Issue 2771
A protest over Universal Credit in south London
A protest over Universal Credit in south London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Tories are pressing ahead with a £20 a week cut to Universal Credit. Two claimants told Socialist Worker how it will hit them. 

Keith cannot be late. It’s 11 miles to his nearest Job Centre and if he arrives more than five minutes after his appointment he could be “sanctioned” and lose part of his benefits.

In Wotton, Norfolk, people without cars are forced to rely on rural buses that are infrequent and unreliable. The trip he must make twice a month costs him £5.50 each time, and is not refunded.

“If you arrive at the Job Centre more than five ­minutes early, they don’t let you in the building,” he told Socialist Worker.

No matter the weather, he and other claimants are forced to wait in the streets until the right time.

“But it’s far worse if you are late,” he says.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wrote to Keith this week saying his benefits will be cut by £87 a month as the government is withdrawing its “Covid Uplift”.

“I already budget the ­pennies,” he told Socialist Worker.

“This week the gas firm also wrote to me and said my bill will rise by 5 percent.

“I live in a poorly insulated house, so this winter the choice is going to be between heating and eating.”

Keith is trying to work out how he’ll survive.


In the past, he’d avoided using the foodbank because there seemed to be people worse off than him. But now, he’s unlikely to have a choice.

“I got laid off from my job in a call centre in March 2020, but I was put on ­furlough,” he said. “The trouble is 80 ­percent of my old pay is less than the minimum wage, so you can’t save any money.”

Labour will rename Universal Credit, but won’t pledge to restore £20 a week cut
Labour will rename Universal Credit, but won’t pledge to restore £20 a week cut
  Read More

“Then I had to go onto Universal Credit. It takes five weeks before you get any money. It’s a real struggle to survive that period.”

Keith had a company ­pension of £70 a month from an old job, but Universal Credit took all of that money out of his benefits. In order to keep receiving his ­benefits, Keith must follow a rigid routine of “showing commitment” to looking for work.

Every two weeks he must use Teams software on his laptop to attend an appointment with job seeker “advisers”. Again, if he doesn’t turn up, he runs the risk of being sanctioned.

But Keith finds the software difficult to use, and if he can’t make it work there’s no one to help.

“You can’t get through to the advisers on the phone. If you try to leave a message on their answerphone, you find it is full up.”

Nevertheless, in order to attend these online mandatory meetings, and to open his Job Centre messages, Keith must be online. And that costs him another £20 a month.

“I used to be able to use the computers at the library and their wifi,” he said. “But since Covid they’ve taken away many of the computers.”

No Tory MP would think twice about a restaurant bill of £87 once a month. But for millions of people like Keith, that sum is the difference between shivering through the cold months, or putting simple food on the table.

‘The Tories have a workhouse mentality, they think that the poor are lazy’

The first six weeks on Universal Credit (UC)were the hardest for Boglarka and her two teenage children who live together in east London.

“I had to borrow money from friends and family just for us to survive,” she told Socialist Worker.

“All we had coming in was £35 a week child benefit.

“And, you don’t want to ask the DWP for an ‘advance’ loan because you know that you’ll never be able to pay it back.”

Boglarka, now works part time, and found a way to manage on Universal Credit by being extremely careful with money. But this week she found out that the government are taking away £86 a month and she doesn’t know what she’ll do.

“What they are doing is absolutely savage,” she says.

“The Tories have a workhouse mentality. They think poor people are lazy and should be able to provide for themselves.

“Now, I’m trying to work out how I’ll clothe my children and pay the bills.

“Our local food bank is already overwhelmed by people who have recently lost their jobs.”

Boglarka is also furious with the Labour Party. “They’ve abandoned people like us,” she says.

“Poor people no longer know where to turn for support.”

She is right to be angry.

The £20 a week Universal Credit cut will hit one in every 14 workers in Britain. Boris Johnson claims his decision to slash the benefit supports those who earn “through their efforts”.

Yet 40 percent of UC claimants, 2.3 million people, already have a job.

But they are forced to claim the benefit because their pay or hours are so low.

Labour should be ramming stories such as Keith and Boglarka’s down the Tories’ throats.

Instead the party says it cannot even commit to restoring the benefit cut if it comes to office.

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