Previously known as Libdemchild

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Buzzy bee illustrations can't distract from the cruelty of universal credit


I recently began a role as a volunteer advice worker and two-thirds of my training was focused on understanding the benefits system and how to aid with individual applications. The most complex part of the training was understanding universal credit. To apply for the benefit claimants are required to keep up a journal online constantly detailing changes to their situation, have access to the internet, wait at least 6 weeks for payment and change the way that they pay rent. 

The welfare system in the UK has been in dire condition for years, to the extent where most people I know find it hard to even keep up with changes and developments to the system. By dire, I don't mean fiscally unfeasible or draining, I mean fundamentally cruel. There has been the introduction of the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the introduction of the fit to work assessments which saw disabled suicide rates double, the replacement of DLA with PIP and now, the replacement of six benefits with universal credit. Universal credit is another blow to benefits claimants. This is not only because of how claimants will see their income levels fall but, also, due to the inaccessibility of the system.

The change to housing benefit is perhaps one of the biggest difficulties and complications of the process. Claimants previously had their housing benefit paid to their landlord and are now expected to source this payment from their universal credit lump sum. This may sound simple enough but the BBC have reported that this has caused rent arrears for some to double. The Trussell Trust has claimed that only 8% of universal credit users have had their cost of living covered. In my training process, we were told that this change has generated the most confusion and difficulty for universal credit claimants. 

Additionally, the assessment period of 5 weeks and the minimum wait of one week for payment means that those making the switch from the old system of benefits have to wait a minimum of 6 weeks to receive any payments. This means 6 weeks without income, of falling into rent arrears and of possibly having to resort to food banks. The above image is advice for claimants on how to handle the changes and the long assessment period from the magazine 'Quids In! guide'. The magazine instructs people to save up for the assessment period to cover living costs whilst also paying off crucial debts and upkeeping broadband payments. Instead of appearing helpful, the image feels like something from a dystopian capitalist world.

It is very easy to dismiss these points and to point the blame at benefits claimants by arguing that they should have knowledge about the system that they use, trust me I have heard this argument many times. But how can an application process that takes days to explain to trainees be something that people are expected to have a comprehensive understanding of whilst also juggling real life? During training, we were told to go home and watch the same video about universal credit several times because the process requires an almost unattainable level of upkeep and complexity. 

The film 'I, Daniel Blake', if you haven't seen it, is an excellent illustration of how the lived reality of the benefits system is so much more difficult and arduous than someone can understand through a brief understanding gained from a newspaper or a news report. It's never how it appears on paper. 

The welfare system is far from the reach of 'lazy skivers', as the tired argument goes. Universal credit not only complicates claimant's lives it also makes them significantly harder by placing increased financial strain. Its hard for many to even keep their head above water. The cruellest part of this whole upheaval is that it makes very minimal change to government expenditure. It is horrendous that a generation of children are growing up in absolute poverty with their situation only worsening. People are being forced into using food banks, choosing to heat or eat and living off the bare minimum for what? Perhaps it doesn't only look like a dystopian capitalist society, maybe it is.

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1 comment

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