How do you survive on Universal Credit?
PUBLISHED: 16:46 23 January 2019 | UPDATED: 12:46 25 January 2019
Universal credit has now been rolled out across Suffolk, with nearly 30,000 people signing up to the scheme.
It has been met with mixed opinions with reported miscalculations, delays in getting payments and changes to the amount people get paid.
But how does someone survive on the new benefits system?
Recent figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that the number of people on Universal Credit has increased by 190% since December 2017, with the scheme being rolled out across the area during 2018.
One of the 4,065 people who are now on Universal Credit in Ipswich is Rebecca Bland, who lives in the Suffolk town with her two children.
Through Universal Credit, Mrs Bland receives £800 a month which she divides down to budget for each week.
She said: “The main problem I had with moving over to Universal Credit is that the payments are now monthly.
“I was on tax credits for 11 years and I had the payments weekly, which were much easier to manage. Now I have to budget carefully to make sure I have money at the end of the month.
“Usually in a week I spend about £50 on food, £25 on petrol and £25 on bills like electricity.
“I have to pay for other bits but that usually gives me enough to play with in case I need to buy an extra loaf of bread or some milk, or if I need to put a bit more petrol in my car.
“Not everybody is that lucky. I get carers allowance because I care for my son which helps. Not everybody gets that.”
Mrs Bland used to be on tax credits until she was forced to stop working so she could look after her disabled son full-time.
She now receives £64 a week for her carer’s allowance, even though her Universal Credit is reduced by the same amount.
“I haven’t been able to fill my car up with as much petrol because of the change,” she said.
“I used to go to the gym but I have had to stop that now so that I make sure I have enough petrol to take my kids to school.
“When my kids were home for Christmas I did have to tell my children it’s not about what you get, it’s about who you are with - because I didn’t have loads of money for presents. They actually took it really well.
“I’ve opened a bank account so for next Christmas already. I put in £20 a month so by Christmas I will have enough for presents and a big Christmas food shop.”
Between April and December 2018, the Citizens Advice network helped 1,900 clients in Suffolk with 3,900 Universal Credit issues, which was a 204% increase on the previous year.
Most of the enquiries were about making a new claim, but the group also saw a lot of queries about housing benefits and the disability element of client’s Universal Credit claim.
Also miscalculations and delays in payments have led to people losing out, as well as the fact that the housing element of Universal Credit does not automatically cover rent.
Nelleke van Helfteren, deputy manager at Ipswich Citizens Advice, said: “The main topic that we help people with is if they should go onto Universal Credit or if they should not. Once you are on it, you can’t get off it can be a difficult decision.
“Most often, we help people in the first instance with their application. All of the application is online, so people who don’t have the internet or have language difficulties can struggle to apply. It is online discrimination.
“Our research shows that 50% of all people who go on to Universal Credit are in debt.
“One of the difficulties we see is that money that used to go directly to landlords for rent now gets paid to the person and if they have an overdraft it can get swallowed up meaning their property is at risk.
“Citizens Advice have been campaigning both locally and nationally to tell the government that Universal Credit isn’t working.”
Foodbanks across Suffolk have also seen an increase of users since the rollout of Universal Credit.
Henry Wilson, projects director at Haverhill Foodbank, said: “We have definitely seen a rise in people using our services since Universal Credit has began.
“It’s a real mess up. We are seeing an increase simply because people can’t afford to buy food.”