Universal Credit isn’t working for people in Martin’s position
Martin Green, a trustee with Church Action on Poverty, shares his experiences of Universal Credit.
It’s just not right that so many people are trapped in poverty – especially when they need some help. The welfare system should hold you steady, but for many people it’s not doing that.
They have accepted I am not fit to work but have left me on standard Universal Credit. So I don’t have to do the job search but I don’t get any extra for travel costs or anything like that.
I get £892 a month for me and my son, who’s 17. That includes the child tax credits. It would be £1,092 but I have deductions coming out for debts.
When I started on Universal Credit I had a five-week wait so I had to take an advance of £400 and pay it back at £33.75 a month. When I was on Jobseeker’s Allowance I was paid fortnightly and was able to manage the money a lot better than I do now I’m paid monthly.
The amount paid in benefits means you’re facing impossible situations. In a good month I can get stuff for food but never anything extra. If I need a new pair of shoes for example, I need to take money off what I have for food. Usually I have £60 a fortnight for food for me and my son.
I just snack; I don’t eat proper meals. The children have always come first and I just eat small bits here and there. I sometimes go all day without eating. If my lad is out with his mates, I will sometimes not eat. This week, three days before I got paid, all I had in was a chicken pie, some potatoes and some beans. If I’m in the house on my own all day I’ll tend not to eat until 6 or 7 o’clock if at all, and I know that if I can keep that food in the cupboard a bit longer, that’s another day of survival.
Because I am in the church circle, I have a lot of charitable friends who are helping me. I’m okay for being fed but I have no money to do anything with my sons, like go out to the cinema or football. That’s what is the hardest thing for me. I have enough to survive but not to do anything different with them. I can see why some young people get into trouble; the community centres have gone be there aren’t enough things now that can take stress away from families.
If you’re a single parent, you’ve not much life at all. There’s nothing out there for you and I think we’re the ones struggling most. I have been struggling to clothe and shoe my son and to do that I have to take money off my food, and I feel stigma because of that. School uniforms used to be the killer for us and the holidays were horrible, with the extra costs and then the uniforms to buy. Or we’d get a call saying one of them didn’t have their PE kit, and it would be because we couldn’t afford it. I can’t feed or clothe my boys properly or feed or clothe myself properly. I certainly can’t afford new clothes for me. Everything goes on my lad. I’m wearing shoes where the sole has been glued back together.
If they want people to live properly and eat properly they need to look again at the system and their decisions and do more. If we had a little more then straight away I could get my lad proper clothes and we could do things. I can’t do anything with him at the moment.
What would help?
There are lots of things that would help but here are three ideas.
- We need more affordable housing. Straight away, more affordable housing would make a difference for me. I pay £460 a month in rent and my Universal Credit only pays £400 of that.
- More employers should be paying the real living wage.
- The Government should be doing more to help people stay afloat. At the moment their policies are not doing that. Incomes at the moment are not ‘livable’. People are stressing each day; I’ve not been able to buy new clothes for three years. Ending the freeze on benefits would be a good place to start.
A few years ago I was a different person – out and about, meeting my friends, always in work, but the last few years have brought a lot of change. I had always been in work until three years ago. I was a forklift truck driver and had different certificates, but I had to leave work to look after the kids to stop them being taken into care. It was a case of losing the boys or losing the job and I wasn’t going to lose the boys. We can all experience events which pull us into poverty.
I was going for jobs but couldn’t afford to keep up my qualifications and renew my certificates, and bus fares are expensive, and then I became unwell, and was getting the bus to the hospital and doctors, and that was eating into the money as well.
They need to do more to help people back into work and to get on and escape poverty. We need to change the way systems work to loosen people from the grip of poverty. Including Universal Credit.
The bigger picture
Martin’s story would resonate with millions of parents around the country. A YouGov poll last year found that one in four parents has skipped meals, and one in eight has gone a whole day without food. All over the UK, parents are going without food so their children don’t have to, trying to loosen the chains of poverty in their own home.
Our welfare system was established because our compassionate society believes in looking out for those in need. The system should ensure people can keep their head around above water but at the moment it isn’t. As Martin says, that simply isn’t right.
The introduction of Universal Credit has exacerbated and compounded many people’s difficult situations. That’s why many organisations, united in the End Hunger UK campaign, led a campaign in 2018 to Fix Universal Credit. The changes proposed there would help millions of people, but further actions are also needed to really unlock poverty. We thank Martin for speaking up, and hope his message is heeded