I am married with four children aged from 8-17. Our lives were settled until COVID hit, then my husband was made redundant. We had no choice but to apply for universal credit. We waited nine weeks for a decision to be made regarding our claim, all the while falling into debt. We didn’t have debt before our need to claim. Finally the decision was made - we were very grateful yet we soon realised that we would have to learn to cut corners and “Rob Peter to pay Paul”, because normal living expenses and paying back the debt left nothing in the pot. Recently I was asked:
“How do I feel about the decision to cut universal credit? And what are you expecting to cut back on?” Here is my honest answer.
Terrified, in all honesty. I am so scared and worried all the time about such a significant loss of income. We only started to claim universal credit in the middle of the pandemic due to my husband being made redundant, so up until recently I had no idea we were in receipt of any increase. It was our normal UC payment, so to be told that now all of a sudden £86 per month will be taken is horrifying.
I do my best as a parent to provide my children all they need, and even with the increase there are massive shortcomings in that. If my child's shoes break for instance I have to weigh up what I can miss a payment of, or what else I feel the family can do without until I can get new shoes for my child. This isn’t living, it’s barely surviving. It is already hard and draining, so to lose £86 a month on top of that is mental torture.
We never have spare money to put aside for an “in case of emergency fund” with the increase, so without it I’m at a loss to know how we are meant to decide what is most important, heating or eating? Because that’s the decision I face for my family: do we keep warm in the bitter cold winter, or do we make sure there is enough food for the children to be full and the occasional meal for myself and my husband?
I know this isn’t just a dilemma my family face, millions of families will be facing the same. If the government felt universal credit was genuinely enough to live off then the increase wouldn’t have been needed in my opinion. The removal of this increase is cruel, and will create long lasting damaging effects such as further debt, greater food poverty and mental health issues to name a few.
Note: The Covid Realities project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the author's and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/