‘Life on Universal Credit is tough – you fear sanctions’

Pic: Jane Barlow
Pic: Jane Barlow

Could you live off £45 per week? That’s the reality facing some on Universal Credit.

The top line on your payment may show a figure of £1200, but what is left after deductions for rent, loans and other sundries is significantly less.

That £45 is the cash in your hand to pay for everything – including food and heating bills.

Fife People’s Assembly insists we are all just two pay cheques away from being on Universal Credit as more people struggle to get by on low wages, zero hours contracts, and part-time jobs.

The Press spoke to people who have gone through the Universal Credit process.

They described the system as tougher than the previous tax credit structure – “it feels like you are being means tested,” said one.

Another said: “You are on tenterhooks all the time.

“Will I get my money? Will I face a sanction? Did I do enough and give them enough detail when looking for a job?”

The challenge of simply getting on to the system, is only the start of the journey for new claimants.

“If you don’t have a computer, then you can go to Job Clubs and use machines there, but when I started I had to use the local library,” said one.

“That’s fine, but if you don’t finish the forms in time you have to book another appointment – you can’t sit there all day as others want to use the PCs.

“Getting on the system wasn’t easy. You need to register, then you are called in and given an appointment for interview– you are back and forth.

There’s constant worry as the payments are processed, and the fear of sanctions remains over-powering.

“You can automatically fall into rent arrears depending on when your payment comes through. That adds to your stress because you may need to make up the shortfall. You end up robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Fife People’s Assembly describes Universal Credit as an “attack on the poor, the disabled and the unemployed” – and that it will push people into low paid, low skilled work simply to tick a box.

“Trying to get through the system is tough,” said one person. “I’ve heard people being sanctioned for not doing enough job searches. To go through that and lose your money is a nightmare.

“But you have to be looking for work 35 hours a week. You get to a stage where your email box has 1000 messages as you search for work. Sometimes you don’t get a reply, and then you are told you are unsuccessful.

“And when you are looking for work you have to keep updating your activity, and you have to be descriptive, so you worry if you have put enough down. If you aren’t descriptive enough, you can be hit.”

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