Posts in '#5WeeksToolong'

Universal Credit: “It’s been a nightmare – I’m £2,000 in debt. I can’t get any more loans.”

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A blog post by
Emma Revie
Chief Executive  

Recently, the Trussell Trust partnered with single-parent charity Gingerbread as part of the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

This campaign has been highlighting the changes Universal Credit needs to ensure proper support is in place for families with children.

The Government needs to fix issues with Universal Credit. There are a number of problems that must be addressed – the first priority must be to end the wait for a first benefit payment.

We’ve spoken to two mums working with Gingerbread to highlight the issues single parents can face – both are in work but need some support from our benefits system to keep their families afloat.

Instead, the problems they’ve encountered with Universal Credit have left them struggling to keep their heads above water.

Ayo, 29, London

Ayo is a single mum-of-one who works full-time in communications. When she came off maternity leave she had to apply for Universal Credit to help with childcare costs.

“I have to cover nursey fees which must be paid in advance and ended up paying three months fees without and being reimbursed by universal credit

“There were so many human errors. I was even told I wasn’t entitled to the childcare element of universal credit.

“After I eventually got a local MP involved, they addressed it, but I had endured several stressful calls – had to use food banks and was going to friend’s homes for food

“I kept being told staff were too busy to deal with my case and felt completely stressed out and unsupported. I have worked since I was young and paid my taxes which I thought was used to help the people who need it in society.

“Why should I pay taxes when I am not entitled to the help they’re meant to provide for people like me?”

Since Ayo’s case was looked into she gets a contribution of just £100 a month towards nursery fees.

“Because I make a fairly good wage I cannot be helped by any other charities, but nursery fees and rent costs are so high I have been left without money to afford food – I’ve been skipping breakfast and dinner so my daughter can eat. I’ve been in my overdraft and getting in debt.

“It’s pulled my confidence down. I feel scruffy at work as I cannot afford to keep up my maintenance.”

Shavishta, 26, Dorset

Shavishta is a single mum to a 4-year-old. Last November she got part-time work. The change meant she had to apply for Universal Credit.

Moving from the old benefits system to the new means she is left with far less than before –  just £120 a month after rent is paid.

In March she lost her job but she has been studying a science degree and is due to start work next week.

“I feel hopeless and have been put on anxiety medication. I’ve been surviving off just £120 a month, but then having to cover nursery too. It’s been a nightmare – I’m £2,000 in debt. I can’t get any more loans.

“When I first started Universal Credit I thought I’d be able to get more support but they don’t view further education as a means to progress.

“I want to work and get a good job but as a single parent it’s so tricky covering child care. I feel they (the system) don’t want me to succeed to get back into society. I’m just another statistic. I don’t feel supported at all.”

Women like Ayo and Shavishta are being trapped in poverty. If we want to help free people instead of locking them into further poverty, debt and hardship, we need to make sure Universal Credit can properly support people.

The first thing the Government’s must do is end the five week wait. It’s #5WeeksTooLong.

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Will the new government promise a ‘golden age’ for Universal Credit?

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A blog post by
Sumi Rabindrakumar
Head of Policy & Research 

Look closely, and there was a rare glimpse of continuity amongst the political upheaval of the past few days. In a break from the recent past, the Department for Work and Pensions managed to hold onto its Secretary of State as the new Prime Minister formed his Cabinet.

This presents a real opportunity for the future of our benefits system. We have a new Prime Minister who, on the campaign trail, declared that “the poorest come first” in his tax and spend priorities. We also have a Work and Pensions Secretary of State who has declared her commitment to making our new benefits system, Universal Credit, “work for everyone”.

Any vision for our future must include systems which protect us from hardship. Key to this will be Universal Credit, yet we know that problems with its implementation and design are still pulling people into hardship and debt.

The most urgent issue to address is the five week (minimum) wait for a first payment. The Trussell Trust has found a steadily increasing share of referrals due to benefit delays is driven by Universal Credit: the problem has not gone away. That’s why food banks across the country, a range of respected partners from across the charity and housing sectors, and around 15,000 public campaigners – many with direct experience of Universal Credit – have already joined together to call for change.

Encouragingly, there are emerging signs that the Secretary of State seems to agree. Amber Rudd has stated she wants people to get their payments sooner. When quizzed by the cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee, it was positive to hear some of the work being done to review the waiting period.

But the fact remains that the wait persists.

Much has been made of future improvements such as further run-ons of DWP legacy benefits to shorten the wait. But this won’t be seen for another year (July 2020), doesn’t help people not receiving DWP benefits before moving onto UC and is a short-term fix – once legacy benefits end, there will be no further support.

This once again leaves Advance Payments  – effectively loans – as the only way to bridge the five week gap in income. It’s a policy that looks on increasingly shaky ground, with clear evidence of the hardship that repayments create for households already under strain. It can’t be right that the only alternative to having no income is to take on a debt.

In uncertain times, it’s difficult to say what will happen next on Universal Credit. But what is clear is that after months of people and organisations joining together and building pressure, there is some movement.

And with a raft of possible spending decisions on the horizon – whether it’s a 2019 Budget, emergency budget, future Spending Review, or general election – there are opportunities to get the investment needed to translate positive words into action.

The new Prime Minister has promised the “beginning of a new golden age”. Any new vision for our nation must include tackling the issues which pull so many of our families into poverty – a benefit system that is fit for purpose, work that is fair and pays and affordable living costs. Without this, people will continue to struggle to put food on the table and cover the rent.

Too often leaders have promised but failed to deliver. With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time for action; the five week wait for Universal Credit is a good place to start.

We know we won’t see change without continuing to build pressure. That’s why we want you to add your voice to tell our new Government that the Universal Credit wait is #5WeeksTooLong.

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