Frontline organisations have laid bare the “nightmare” impact of Universal Credit at a meeting held in Kirkcaldy.
An upsurge in poverty, addiction, crime and prostitution have been ascribed to the flagship welfare policy, which was rolled out in Fife in December 2017.
The meeting at Templehall Community Centre was organised by Lesley Laird, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, as a follow-up to a similar event held to prepare for Universal Credit.
Attendees included representatives from Citizens Advice Rights Fife (CARF), Home-start Kirkcaldy, Link Living, Kirkcaldy YMCA, Fife People’s Assembly, Kirkcaldy Food Bank, Fife Voluntary Action and Fife Trades Union Council.
All reported a huge increase in demand on services from people affected by sanctions or waiting five weeks for a Universal Credit payment.
Joyce Leggate, of Kirkcaldy Food Bank, said: “We used to provide a service for people with acute need, now it is chronic support.
“We’ve got people coming every week for a year and we see the mental health of people deteriorating. Their heads are down, they’re beaten by the system. We are seeing more people get sanctions, more and more families in food crisis. Two thirds of recipients are children.”
According to Fife Economy Partnership’s latest figures, 74,22 people in Fife are registered as Universal Credit claimants seeking work.
The meeting reported that people working in low-paid jobs and eligible for Universal Credit top-up were expected to prove they were looking for more work – or face sanctions.
Zoe Nicholson, of Link Living, said: “In the past, if you couldn’t make an appointment because you were working, you would phone your job advisor and reschedule.
“Now it’s a 45-50 minute call on hold to a Universal Credit contact centre.
“People are just too exhausted by the system. People don’t have the fight in them; it’s just not worth it.”
The meeting highlighted a ‘hand-in-hand’ rise in the black-market economy, addiction and prostitution in the Kirkcaldy area alongside Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, services and charities were struggling to meet an upsurge in demand.
Liz Easton, Kirkcaldy YMCA, said: “When you apply for funding all you hear is ‘how little [money] you can do this for?’
“It’s a race to the bottom.”