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Universal Credit

by C. Raymond Martin 3 years ago in finance

Universally Hated?

Recently, the contract for my temporary employment at a certain call centre came to an end. I can't say that I miss it. There's something about being routinely told that I'm a worthless idiot by faceless strangers that just doesn't appeal to me, and besides, the voices in my head pretty much have that base covered. So, with nothing else lined up, I had to schedule an appointment go to the Job Centre, but this was only the beginning of the nightmare.

Once there, I was told by the Adviser that I had an option of two benefits although the payout was roughly the same; Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA), which I was already familiar with, or Universal Credit. I had heard plenty of horror stories about UC being unreliable, so I opted for JSA and everything went forward as expected. Or so I had hoped.

I signed on over the next two weeks, looking for work, fulfilling my end of the commitment we had agreed to, but after those two weeks I was beginning to worry when my first payment was going to come through as I still had bills to pay. I asked my Adviser what was going on, and after a few days I was told I wasn't even on the system, because I had "picked the wrong one" regarding JSA and UC. Had I known my Adviser was speaking in riddles, I could've saved myself a lot of trouble, because I had to start the whole process again, and was told I wouldn't receive anything as this was apparently all my fault. The guy now handling my case assured me that he'd been doing this a long time, and "knew what he was doing," though I seriously doubted the latter at that point.

The kicker came when I was told that it could take four to six weeks for my first payment to come through, and given that I had just come out of a zero-hours contract, I hadn't exactly been raking it in, so four to six weeks is an unbearably long time to go without any kind of income. I asked what I was meant to do in the meantime, and I was told I could apply for an advance, but I'll get to that in a moment.

I couldn't believe that this was the situation I was in, much less what it was like for other people. People can't be expected to put their lives on hold for a month/month and a half. I was lucky that my family rallied around me, and gave me a roof over my head, and food in my belly so it was heartbreaking to think of those without that same support. Inevitably, I had to apply for an advance to cover my bills, and while I was told it was straight-forward—and it was—I wasn't told just how it worked. Rather than taking the amount from your first payment, it takes a monthly increment from every payment going forward. It gives you the option to set what sort of time-frame is best suited to you to repay the advance, but it's still compounding debt on those who have likely incurred a heavy debt at this point, and if it came through fortnightly (like JSA) then there would be no need for an advance.

This isn't how welfare is supposed to work. It's supposed to be a public service, to act like a safety net for those who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs to redundancy or injury, not add undue pressure to an already stressful scenario. Other points of contention include UC being paid monthly in arrears, delayed payments, being online only, and finding many claimants (including elderly and disabled) ineligible, and fit for work.

While 90 percent of the country has internet access within their homes, that's still a great deal of people who have to rely on libraries, or Job Centre computers (Of which 350+ have been removed from centres nationwide), which, again, adds to the problem, rather than fixing it. UC needs to implement a system that's readily available to everyone.UC was meant to streamline the welfare system, folding six different forms of benefits under one umbrella, and making the process easier in doing so, but it has achieved anything but. It's putting the vulnerable at further risk of incurring debt, facing illnesses, and the possibility of homelessness, and all of this is met with all the air of complete and utter indifference.

As of right now, there's a distinct lack of trust in Universal Credit, and how it is run. The Department for Work and Pensions came under fire earlier in May for having taken out a six page advert in the Metro newspaper that cost £200k extolling the virtues of UC, and so far, they're the only people I've heard doing so. The old system was by no means perfect, but it didn't feel like it was actively trying to punish those who depended on it.

A country that implements a flawed system like Universal Credit, a system that cuts the legs of the needy from under them, is not a strong country. A radical change must come and soon.


C. Raymond Martin

Aspiring script/book/graphic novel writer and avid NFL fan.

Read next: Dare I Say the Word?

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