The Socialist 17 April 2019 |
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Real life on Universal Credit: "As soon as I get billed for my electric, I'm finished"
Universal Credit is a disaster for workers, photo by JJ Ellison/CC (Click to enlarge)
Hi. I'm Luke. I live alone and I'm on Universal Credit.
I also worked in the Grimsby Jobcentre Plus for seven weeks as a volunteer guiding people through the sign-on process. Helping them use the computers; making sure they got to speak to the people they needed to speak to; and doing everything I could to help them get what they were entitled to.
I was asked to speak recently about my experience with this system. Why it's bad; why I'm worse off on Universal Credit than I would be otherwise.
That's a hard topic for me to tackle, however, since I've never personally been on any other kind of benefit. My parents lived on benefits for nearly my entire childhood, and I was well aware we were poor, but they didn't share the exact financial details with me.
So if you were to ask me if I'm worse off on Universal Credit, the only honest answer I could give you is "I don't know."
I can tell you something else though. Let me go through some quick maths with you all. I receive a grand total of £554.01 a month.
Out of this, I pay £367.99 a month in rent and heating - a figure which I've been informed will be rising soon. I pay £27 for my water. I pay £22.50 for my internet - essential for keeping up with the 35-hours-a-week job-searching quota you are expected to meet on Universal Credit.
My council tax currently stands at £63 a month, which I've been assured by friends who are also on Universal Credit is an error. I've been attempting to get that resolved for the last seven months, but who knows if it ever will?
I spend £10 a month on phone usage, which is essential for job-searching, communicating with work, reporting repairs, and sorting out bills like the aforementioned council tax.
And I currently have no idea how much I'm paying for my electricity! I've been back and forth between the electric company and the housing association many times, and am yet to get a straight answer on that front.
So if we add up all the monthly bills we know for sure, it comes to £490.49. If we assume I'm paying £40 per month on electricity, this goes up to £530.49.
How much does that leave over? If we take £554.01 and cut away £530.49, I'm left with £23.52.
£23.52 per month is just under £5.43 a week. This is what I have left over to cover food, clothes, sanitary items, household essentials, bus travel and emergencies. I'm only still able to get by because my electric bill hasn't turned up yet - and because of my dear mother, who is also in great financial hardship right now, buying me frozen food sometimes.
As soon as I get billed for my electric, I'm finished.
So yeah. I can't tell you if I'm worse off on Universal Credit, but I can tell you it's not enough. I can also tell you from my experience, both claiming for myself and from working at the job centre, that this system requires claimants to claw and fight for everything they get.
It took me three months to get my rent paid. Three months of near-daily back and forth between my housing association and the job centre - including throughout the time I spent working in the job centre - to finally secure the housing element of my Universal Credit claim.
During this time I received two eviction notices. Had I been dealing with a private landlord, I would have been made homeless.
If someone like me who knows this system well is struggling this hard, I can only imagine how anyone less advantaged than me is surviving.