As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, we are continuing to check in with a foodbank in an area currently transitioning to UC to see if there is any noticeable impact on the number of families with children using their services. We hear the first hand experiences of one of the foodbank’s staff, Linda.
Housing and mental health have been on Linda’s mind this week. A recent report by the University of York showed that people whose claim relates to mental health issues are often more likely to lose their benefits than those who claim for non-psychiatric conditions. This is borne out by what Linda sees every day.
“1 in 3 of our clients have a mental illness or are caring for someone who has,” Linda tells me. “And it’s not hard to imagine how being made to wait for a claim could exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and depression.”
“This system is so difficult to find your way around. It’s not just the IT, it’s the accessibility in general.”
And the delay in payments can have a range of consequences for families with children.
“Council tenants claiming Universal Credit have more than double the rent arrears than those who have not moved over onto the new system yet.” Some local councils have set aside resources to help, but not every claimant is in local authority housing.
“Private landlords tend not to be so sympathetic,” says Linda. “They are not all unscrupulous be any means, but they are business people who are out of pocket.”
With all benefits being consolidated into one payment, Linda is concerned about those families who lack basic budgeting skills.
“We understand the idea behind Universal Credit. But we have people who are used to being paid fortnightly now being paid monthly with a seven week wait. And people have urgent financial needs in that time – not just food.”
These debts can come in many forms. Certain weekly payment stores charge 69.9% fixed APR with payment plans lasting up to 156 weeks.
“People may have other debts they are being chased for. And they will pay first the debt they are being pressured most to pay.”
So as we approach the end of the first month of 2019, there doesn’t seem to be much improvement in payments. We catch up on a few of the families we’ve talked about over the last few weeks, and some of the more hopeful stories have had painful epilogues.
“The lady we spoke of previously who came in and donated five pounds has had to come back in and use the foodbank again. She had to sign off UC as soon as she got the job, but is being paid a month in arrears so she had to come in again. She thought foodbanks were behind her now.”