The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Universal Credit – the flagship Tory welfare timebomb that students need to get clued up on

Final year students need to look now at their circumstances and understand what hardship could lie in wait for them if the Tories don’t halt and fix this cruelly designed replacement of Jobseekers Allowance.

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Parliament held an emergency debate on the 26th of October, regarding the continued roll out of Universal Credit across the country.

Perhaps the following weeks will  see me get more phone calls from someone in my hometown about someone they know who has recently applied for Universal Credit and are now in arrears with their Housing Association and need help.

Maybe I’ll receive more emails from the manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau I work at in Salford asking for more urgent donations as the local food bank is running low on basic supplies — which has never happened this soon before Christmas.

Universal Credit is something that my fellow students will probably not know much about due to coming into Higher Education straight from college or having parents provide for them, but for me — as a final year student, 26 years old and lives with their partner — the reality of not having full time employment upon graduating is a thought not worth bearing about which will be explained over the course of this piece.

The fear of unemployment is nothing new to me, I’ve become hardened to it. Getting booted out of college in 2009 as a 17-year old, I walked straight into the wild west that was Warrington’s labour market at the height of the Global Recession and got my first taste of the dole a short time after.

Signing on and off became a regular occurrence in the years that followed, you get to know the rules of the game pretty quickly — the three letters in my life changed from EMA to JSA in no time. A fair few zero hour contract jobs and an Access to HE course later and here I am on the brink of academic enlightenment. Being debt-free now, I am fearful of going through it all again.

However, this time I will be entering a new paradigm, the possibility of being ineligible for basic state welfare. No safety net. The possibilities of the world of ‘Universal Credit’. I will not qualify for any benefits as my partner that I live with works full time and earns over £514 per month — an amount classed as the ‘Universal Credit income limit’. In the eyes of the system, we would be ‘jointly earning’ that amount.

I must find full time work immediately upon completing my studies. If not my partner will be financially liable for the whole of our £650 per month rent, bills (£200), food shopping (£100), and the whole Council Tax bill, meaning there will be more going out than what is coming into the house.

Knowing that I would be trapped by the means test, I have already begun saving £200 per month in preparation for this potential catastrophe — meaning I have had to cut down considerably on spending as a result, meaning less money is being spent in the local economy.

The result of being refused unemployment benefit, however, would put us both into immediate debt, rent arrears, and risk us being evicted — we will be on a month to month rolling contract in June — and would put an untold strain on to our relationship.

The scenario that I potentially face is not unique, it is being played out in thousands of households up and down the country right now. How many households in Britain contain people in precarious, short term work? Millions. How many go from short term contract to short term contract relying on unemployment benefit as a safety net between such work? Too many.

The reality of the cruel and ill thought nature of this benefit that will replace Jobseekers Allowance is yet another indictment of the sociopath traits that this Conservative government has espoused over the last seven years. The rules of the game have been changed so the onus of the responsibility of unemployment is completely and utterly on yourself, you are to blame and you and your partner only should bear the burden of your sins if this is the case.

Things get really shit? Pray you find a job, take out a loan — how’s that immaculate credit record, Skipper? — or give mum or dad a bell. Just don’t expect the state to provide basic welfare provision, you serf.

Universal Credit is regarded as the biggest reform of the welfare system since its formation. At present when you claim, it takes at least six weeks before your first payment.

Let me put that into perspective, if that was Student Finance and the start was the first week of term – you still won’t have received a penny of your loan and/or grant, and wouldn’t until the first day of reading week next week.

It is throwing people’s lives into chaos and causing unnecessary worry and anxiety for many. For example, Southwark in South London — one of the ‘guinea pig areas’ in which UC has been implement – the local council have said that although just 12 per cent of its social housing tenants were on Universal Credit, they have collectively built up £5.8m in rent arrears. The average Universal Credit household was £1,178 in arrears, compared with £8 in credit for the average council rent account across the borough.

Any receivers of a Catholic schooling, like myself, will remember doing the Shoe Box Appeal in school before Christmas for hungry kids on the other side of the world. Well, this year in Manchester they are doing them for kids on the other side of this city. Maybe Theresa May can have a song and a prayer on that cold hard fact down at her local parish this coming Sunday mass. If she does not tread carefully in the coming months this may certainly end up being her version of the Poll Tax. Thing’s ain’t pretty now, and if things carry on they will get a lot uglier.

I believe the continued roll out of Universal Credit is a failure of social policy in Britain not seen since the Means Test of the 1930s in the backdrop of the Great Depression. Me and my partner’s potential predicament reminds me of a contemporary version of Harry and Helen’s situation in Walter Greenwood’s ‘Love on the Dole’.

The fact of the matter is that I actually agree with the idea of Universal Credit. The consolidation of several benefits into one payment and the way it is meant to incentivise work and reduce bureaucracy and the way it is supposed to empower is a positive step forward in theory.

However, politicians and civil servants as they do, see things through only one pair of eyes — they cannot possibly comprehend the realities of what life is like for the common man. The faux-unemployment rate means nothing to many, nor does the politicians’ idea of what work ethic should be to those trying to get by with the surreal grind of day-to-day life in England 2017.

Losing face with a review of UC and its draconian regulations will be nothing compared to what people on their arse en masse will feel when there is nothing to lose when there’s no money coming in and their self-respect is long gone.

A final thought.: if you don’t feel too rosy about your full time job chances come finishing studies, you need to get clued up now. Don’t find out the hard way.

 

For more information on the rules of Universal Credit please see:

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/before-you-apply/what-universal-credit-is/

And the reality of it for many:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/17/we-went-days-without-eating-properly-universal-credit-misery-inverness

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/universal-credit-woman-benefits-slashed-penny-a-month-government-latest-a8010836.html

Donations to Salford Food Bank are always needed and appreciated. A couple of quid will provide a family with an emergency food parcel for a week. You can donate at:

https://localgiving.org/charity/salfordfoodbank/