UNIVERSAL CREDIT can be a laborious procedure for many people across the UK. The second instalment of the three-part BBC Two series “Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State” provided unique insight into just how tough it can be.
This episode focused on Liverpool, which is a big city for Universal Credit. There are around 45,000 people in Liverpool on Universal Credit, with a further 2,000 people signing up to moving over from the old benefits system. One in twenty are completely out of work. In this episode, we got to see how the Universal Credit system effects certain claimants, including Susan a former nursery school cleaner.
Susan, 61, sat down with her Universal Credit coach Alison to discuss her circumstances.
Susan made her claim as she lost her job as a cleaner, having been made redundant.
As she went through the procedure it became clear to see that it can be a stressful experience.
She is questioned on what she’s been doing since being made redundant and she is asked for details on her job search.
Clearly frustrated, Susan detailed: “They’re not paying me money you know, job searching is stressful”.
Alison detailed that job hunting is necessary as it is treated like a full time job.
Thirty five hours a week of job searching needs to be completed for the benefit to be paid.
Alison tried to reassure Susan that it’s not meant to feel like you’re just sitting at a desk for 35 hours but Susan, riddled with anxiety, interrupted: “But that’s how it feels.”
Viewers are brought into Susan’s home as she details what her life is like. After her rent is paid, she is left with just over £317 to last her.
She jokes: “I can’t afford a haircut at the moment.
“I’ve been unemployed in the past and it was so so different I couldn’t tell you, but now it’s all been made into one you just don’t know where you’re at. There are so many things you’ve got to do and it’s just so much pressure.”
Eventually, Susan gets some good news. She received a call from the job centre detailing that they’ve found her work, but it’s only for 10 hours, 25 short of the amount she’ll need to completely come off the benefits.
Despite this, she is optimistic as she exclaimed: “It’s the first step of getting off Universal Credit”.
As she heads to the interview she is clearly nervous and it’s here where a lot of modern plights are revealed. During the interview, the employer revealed that the minimum wage is paid and it is for 10 hours maximum.
The meeting seems relatively brief but Susan receives a call a few days later revealing that she got the job. Her optimism shined through again: “I’ve got the job I just need to get my mojo back you know, it’s only 10 hours so if I could only get 25 hours more, you know, bye bye job centre”.
From the job centre workers’ perspective, it’s clear to see that there’s issues for the internal system too. As a senior worker puts succinctly: “The system is in flux”
It’s revealed that £37billion has been cut from the welfare budget since 2010. While the staff are just about managing with the workload, it’s clear that operations are crumbling, especially for the local area which merged three job centres into one due to cuts.
It is almost ironic as the staff start giving their views on what’s happening. When asked what she would do in the same circumstances, Alison detailed that she would continually look for work but would likely take anything she could.
She detailed that there are plenty of people who are happy to clean toilets and she would rather do that than be on Universal Credit. Others within the system may not have a choice as a veteran public servant detailed that there are people working within Universal Credit Offices who also need to claim.