Dear Edd, or, Why I am so angry about Universal Credit

Edd is a man I argue with on Facebook. Molly is someone who argues with Edd as well. Molly asked me to explain Universal Credit to Edd because Edd was suggesting that people scrounge. This is what I wrote.

Dear Edd,

Money is provided according to ‘needs’, not ‘wants’ and is provided because people are legally entitled to it. Nobody gets hand outs willy-nilly. The process of Universal Credit (UC) is rightly thorough, but the deal is witheringly cruel for some people.

Understandably, UC is designed to ensure that being workless is not a life-style choice, and, yes, there have been times past when it seemed just easier and lucrative enough to not work. But it isn’t like that, and that is perfectly right.

Even so, the way that UC is being implemented (and Personal Independence Payments, PIP, alongside it) is damaging to those who already have less than everyone else in the country.

The process relies on a five week turn-around. At the outset, if someone has no money then they can receive a loan for that five week period. This is then removed at source in subsequent months. However, for those who have nothing, budgeting is a rare skill and so they often (usually) get into debt as soon as they are expected to repay anything. This helps nobody.

Then, PIP… This was DLA and was seemingly renamed to rid itself of the dirty tactics that people reported, whereby people who could not work were told by Atos that they could and had to. Guess what? It still happens. People who can walk less than 100 metres before extreme exhaustion are deemed fit to work and so are denied any help. I have accompanied people to tribunals where such decisions have been immediately overturned, but only after maybe six months of waiting. The tribunals often show surprise at how the assessor has made the decision in the first place.

What happens when you get work (hooray!)? The process becomes even darker. The idea is that for every £1 of wage, you receive 37p of the equivalent UC payment. This is to encourage work, and to avoid the old poverty trap, whereby working actually made you worse off. But, guess what? Working still often makes you worse off because your case is handled so opaquely that payments frequently do not match up, and nobody really knows why. One of my clients was paid nothing for two months because his employer mistakenly recorded that he’d been given two monthly salaries when he’d only received one. So, it took about five months to get to the bottom of it, during which time the pittance he was receiving and the reduced UC took him under, and off to the food bank he did go.

Then there’s back payments. Giving someone who cannot budget a back payment of maybe £1000 (not unheard of) is pretty stupid. Just because you’re poor doesn’t make you bad at budgeting, but there is a higher likelihood. And besides, having nothing and then having £1000 is quite a feeling of joy. You celebrate. derp…
So, Edd, this is a quick skim. I’ve got stories galore, and not one of those stories involves a scammer, someone who is just sitting back and raking it in. There are parents whose children eat them out of house and home and the parents go hungry. There are those who have no PIP because they have been too confused or embarrassed to raise an appeal.

I hope that clarifies a few things for you. I’m not trying to be pompous, pious, condescending, or anything, but that’s the world as I see it: often.