Start End Hunger Week by listening to these powerful stories
Universal Credit has been dominating the headlines in the past few days. Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, has admitted some families will be worse off under the new policy than the old. Two former Prime Ministers, John Major and Gordon Brown, have called for a rethink. And The Mirror has launched a campaign calling on the policy to be fixed or binned.
There is growing recognition that the welfare system, rather than keeping people afloat, risks sweeping them into poverty.
At the heart of the Universal Credit crisis are real people, whose finances, plans and hopes have been sucked into a whirlpool. In recent months, we have been speaking to people around the country who have experienced Universal Credit.
Please take a moment to consider some of these accounts. As well as these shortened versions, you can click on any contributor’s name to read their full story.
Tony & Sue, in York, were in live-in accommodation at a pub where they worked, and became homeless when their move to another pub fell through.
They signed on to Universal Credit, but instead of it helping them back out of the rip-tide and back on to dry land, they found themselves getting into deeper difficulty.
They moved into a council-run hostel then in a tent beside the River Ouse for several weeks, feeding themselves on a total of £4 a day.
Tony said: “Universal Credit does not work, and it’s the fault of the system. It doesn’t help you get back on your feet, it traps you.”
They had money wrongly deducted from one payment, and struggled to meet the online demands while living in the tent.
Sue said: “Universal Credit has swept us further into difficulty because you can never, ever, be in credit with Universal Credit.”
Universal Credit must be fixed. It needs greater flexibility and support for applicants and society and the policy must ensure that payments are sufficient to enable people to keep their head above water and afford good food on a regular basis.
Where Universal Credit has been rolled out, delays, errors and inflexibility have meant many people being cut adrift and swept into debt, destitution and hunger.
In Huddersfield, Ciaran waited 10 weeks for his first payment and had to use the food bank for eight weeks in a row. His problems were exacerbated by administrative errors, when it emerged the Jobcentre had set up two Universal Credit accounts for him instead of one.
He describes his situation as diabolical, and said: “I always turn up for my appointments, I do what’s asked of me, I do all the job searches they ask and I’ve never been sanctioned but despite my best efforts, I am still in this mess and ended up two months in arrears.
I’m nine months into Universal Credit and still not satisfied. They want 36 hours’ a week job searching, and I do that but you soon run out of options for work in a town here.”
It is simply not right that many people in Britain are unable to access good food, and have to go to bed hungry.
Niel said: “Universal Credit I have found to be pretty rubbish. The Jobcentre put me in touch with here and I’ve used it ever since. I volunteer as well now, to give something back.”
He said his work coach was helpful and gave lots of information, but work was not easy to come by in the area.
He added: “If it was not for this place, I would not eat. I struggle month to month. Hopefully I will find at least a part-time job soon, then see how that leaves Universal Credit.”
Paul said: “Universal Credit pays you, but by the time you take off rent, gas, electricity, water and council tax, there’s just a few pounds a day left – barely a cup of coffee. I get £320 a month but I have been sanctioned before for three months, and I still don’t really know why. We need a bit more money essentially. If I got another £100 Universal Credit I could cook a lot more and have decent food instead of processed cans.
Overall, I think the Government do a good job on a lot of things, and the NHS is fantastic for example, but people who are poor or down and out could be helped a lot more.
Last year, Church Action on Poverty spoke with a man in Salford, who did not want to give his name but was willing to share his experiences.
He said: “A lot of people have been hurt now from Universal Credit. I feel like I shouldn’t be moaning, I don’t like to, but they’re not giving people what they should. That first wait is horrible. I got into £810 debt. I went to a guy to borrow some money, and to friends, but other people would not be able to even get that help.
I am severely depressed. If they paid the money weekly or every two weeks, that would make a big difference. I said to them as well that they shouldn’t give me the rent, they should give it straight to the landlord. If you give people it all, they might spend the rent, then they are down. It’s a vicious cycle.
Before Universal Credit, I just owed a few people, but nothing much. Then Universal Credit came in and changed it. There are a lot of people suffering. On my estate, there are a lot of people really, really struggling. Everybody is in some bother, it’s such hard work.”
As a compassionate society, we need to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable among us are staying afloat, not being pulled into the rising tides. This End Hunger Week, help to bring about a society in which nobody needs to go to bed hungry, and in which everyone has access to good food. Please sign the petition today, and encourage your friends, relatives and neighbours to likewise.