‘Choice between using shower or oven’: harsh realities of universal credit cut

Faced with rising bills and caring for disabled family, four people describe how they are already ‘barely surviving’

More than 800,000 people risk being pushed into poverty as a result of a cut to universal credit coming into effect on Wednesday, while 100,000 renters in England will be in danger of eviction.

The Resolution Foundation has described it as the largest ever overnight cut in benefits, and the government has been warned it will have a severe impact as it coincides with rising energy costs and food prices.

Four people who receive universal credit, including single parents and carers, speak about how they will be affected.

‘I already end up with no money at the end of the month’

Georgia Bowden
Georgia Bowden. Photograph: Georgia Bowden

Georgia Bowden, a 26-year-old artist and single mother living in Bath, has been receiving universal credit since her son, now two, was born. She is struggling to make ends meet even before the cut comes into effect. “I’m absolutely terrified. At the moment, I end up with no money at the end of the month, and that’s with this uplift. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t have Netflix, but I still run out of money. I want to work, but I can’t at the moment – I just look after my son, that’s a full-time job.”

Bowden is worried about the cut coinciding with the beginning of winter, especially amid rising fuel and food prices. “Life is going to cost more,” she says. Bowden has used food banks before, but worries about the lack of fresh food on offer.

“It’s good for pasta and stuff like that but all you get is tinned and processed stuff – you can’t live off that. I want my son to be healthy. ”

‘The uplift allowed me to get a job’

Scott Edwards, a 46-year-old single father in Nottinghamshire, said the uplift had allowed him to access better employment opportunities. “I have a part-time job as a technical assistant, which I managed to get because the uplift helped me travel to a different town and get a better job,” Edwards said. The rise meant he could pay for petrol to drive to work and buy a car from a charity. “It helped me move away from poverty. A simple £20 a week makes a massive difference in my life because I’m not on that much money anyway, but it allowed me to get out of debt.”

As the sole carer for his four-year-old daughter, Edwards is not able to take on more hours to make up the difference. “I’m on £9.60 an hour, but for me to earn that extra £20, I’d have to actually work a whole day,” he said, owing to the universal credit system’s 63% taper rate, which means that for every pound someone is paid above a work allowance, their benefit is reduced by 63p. “Because of my situation with looking after my child, that’s not possible.”

Edwards said the cut meant he would have to return to using food banks. “My daughter will be fine, it’s me that will go without. I’ve used food banks to the point of them knowing me by name. It’s highly embarrassing because of the way people look at you. I’m proud to be a single father and making the right moves in life for my daughter, but this feels like a massive step back.”

‘I have to make a choice between showering and using the oven or washing machine’

Peter, 52, in Caithness, Scotland, began receiving universal credit in 2019, after he became ill with sepsis after an accident. Unable to work, his relationship fell apart and he found himself homeless within six months. “I went to the Highland council and they told me there was a five-year waiting list for housing in Inverness, so I had to relocate 100 miles away from family and friends,” he said. He has struggled to find work there due to lack of employment opportunities on offer in the town. “It’s a catch-22 between housing and employment.”

Peter, who had previously worked as an administrator, said the change in his circumstances was sudden. “I was a professional person with a home, a partner and a life. The wheels can come off very quickly for anyone. Life on universal credit is not a life at all – it is a barely tolerable existence.”

Money will be even tighter after the cut. “After my overheads, which themselves are cut to the bone, I have calculated that I will have £7.92 a day for food, toiletries, travel, clothing and life in general,” he said. “Every week I have to make some very basic choices, between showering and using the oven or washing machine.” As it comes in at the start of winter, the cut will be a “double whammy” along with rising utility bills. “I’ve got to try and stay employable, try to stay positive and communicative, but it grinds you down. It’s exhausting.”

‘We’re barely surviving’

David Taylor
David Taylor. Photograph: David Taylor

David Taylor, 45, has been on universal credit for the last four years and has been caring for his 75-year-old uncle. “He is seriously disabled – he’s got Parkinson’s and dementia. He needs 24 hour care, because he can’t walk, or talk. He needs help bathing, dressing and eating, he has constant falls. I haven’t been able to leave the house for the past two years, I can only get deliveries, I have no life left. It’s inhuman and disgusting. How am I supposed to leave a seriously disabled person on his own in order to rejoin society?”

Combined with surging energy and food costs, the £20 cut will leave Taylor in a dire position. “We’re barely surviving. Bills are just about to go up – I started off paying £120 a month, and it’s now £270. My weekly shop has also doubled since the pandemic started. I’ll have to miss meals.”

Taylor is worried that he will have no longer be able to support his uncle. “I’m going to have to consider putting my uncle into a home against his will, which is something I don’t want to do.”

Contributor

Clea Skopeliti

The GuardianTramp

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