In case you don’t know, Universal Credit is the greatest achievement of Iain Duncan Smith. It is the only thing IDS achieved in government. It is his crucible. His life’s work, and his life’s worth. And it is utterly shit. But this should surprise no one.
In theory, Universal Credit encompasses all the benefits you’re eligible to claim. It’s relatively simple when it comes to Jobseekers and housing benefit, but it becomes more complex when it comes to other claims. The idea is to reduce bureaucracy by combining claims into one simple process. In practice, it just means the claimant has to go through an arduous process of filing out forms, providing evidence and chasing up the payments (and back-payments).
A friend of mine living with their parents in deepest, darkest Kent was set just over £251 a month under Universal Credit. This is the standard allowance for someone under 25. It would take into account housing benefit on top of this sum. It may not sound bad, if you’re living at home. But the system is highly punitive. You can have your benefits cut or suspended for several months for just missing an appointment.
If you live in London, where your rent is likely exorbitant you may still be expected to get by on a pitiful amount. Even if you’re lucky to have very cheap rent, say £400 a month, the system might give you this or it could dole out the bare minimum — just £117 a month. This is on top of any living allowance. That’s just £368 a month. If you’re 25 or over, it will be £434 a month. Could you get by on £8.50 a week? Would that cover your bills?
What’s the impact? You’re gradually forced backwards, sinking deeper into debt. You’re either drowning in your overdraft, or lending money from friends and family. You could end up homeless, or coach-surfing. However, the answer is simple, it’s just not widely known. If you call up the Scottish office (that’s 0345 600 0723, by the way) and question the payments, you can get your benefits fixed. Be politely annoying, it’s usually the way forward.
I’ve done this myself (I was expected to live off of £21 a week, incidentally) after getting advice from a friend, who works as a support worker. If you’re set a pitiful amount of money to live on, the worst thing to do is nothing. Universal Credit was devised, not to provide a safety-net for people who fall through the cracks, but to force people to accept low-pay for long hours of shitty work. Perhaps this is why wages have fallen by 10% in recent years.
This article was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.