OPINION: Ending Universal Credit £20 top up for needy now is inhumane

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The £20 Universal Credit top up can be the difference between keeping poorer people from avoiding enforcement action, says Jane Basham - Credit: PA

Jane Basham, chief executive officer of Norfolk Community Law Service explains how ending the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift payment is impacting on Norfolk families

The loss of the £20 uplift that ends this week will have a devastating impact on the citizens of Norfolk. Here is just one example of a debt service client.

The client approached us for advice about dealing with her debts in July. She was receiving Universal Credit and child benefit as her only sources of income while she was trying to find a new job, having been made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The client lived in a rented property with her dependent children and she was incredibly stressed about her financial situation.

The uplift in Universal Credit had made a huge difference for the client. She had been able to keep up with her essential household bills band she was even managing to make small repayments to her creditors, which kept enforcement at bay.

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When the client approached us for advice, she expressed that she was very concerned about what would happen when this £20 per week uplift was stopped.

The client knew that she would soon have to buy school uniform for her children, she said she was relieved to have been able to do this before the £20 per week uplift was stopped.

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For this client, £20 per week was a significant part of her income. In fact, it represented almost 19% of her weekly income.

Across the course of a month, the loss of £20 per week will have a profound impact on her ability to keep up with essential costs, buy food for herself and her family, and make any payment towards her debts.

The client knows that it’s likely enforcement action will be taken against her when her income drops, because she simply won’t be able to make the necessary payments to prevent this.

Norfolk Community Law Service's debt advice team are working closely with the client to enact a long-term plan to help the client move forward.

Nonetheless, the impact on the client’s mental health has been profound and she is facing the uncertainty of what will happen next.

For this Norfolk mum and for thousands of other people reliant on Universal Credit, the future is bleak. Made bleaker by rising energy prices and increases in the cost of living.

Jane Basham of Norfolk Community Law Service

Jane Basham of Norfolk Community Law Service - Credit: Submitted

The number of clients on Universal Credit accessing our debt service, has increased during the pandemic.

Many of these clients on Universal Credit have had to claim benefits more recently.

So, it follows that those being impacted by the Universal Credit uplift being scrapped are those who are newer to the benefits system.

They might be younger, or it might be those who haven’t had to claim benefits before. They may have experienced a sudden hardship, loss of work, sudden change in circumstances etc.

The average amount of debt our clients on Universal Credit have been dealing with over the last year is £12,908.29 (during the pandemic).

Pre-pandemic, this average for clients on Universal Credit was lower, at £11,474.45. This means clients receiving Universal Credit are on average presenting with 11.11% more debt than before the pandemic (an extra £1,433.84 on average)

Thanks to the generosity of Norwich Consolidated Charities, we have been able to give our financially poorest clients (across all services) Aldi vouchers to help over the last few weeks.

These vouchers have now run out. Our clients have been hugely grateful.

In my opinion, to be made to feel beholden to us is degrading and humiliating. The vouchers and the work we do here at NCLS is just a sticking plaster over the bottomless pit of inequality and poverty.

Many claimed Universal Credit for the first time during the pandemic, so the £20 is not an uplift for them. It forms part of their core household income. It isn’t an additional bonus they can stash away for a rainy day. For our clients, the rainstorm is already here. It is a part of their every day.

I hope those who hold the power do the right thing. That is to maintain Universal Credit at least at the current level and make the change that is needed to lift individuals and families out of poverty.

To cut the lifeline now is an act of inhumanity.



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