Universal Credit: Where No One Gets the Credit They’re Due
Universal Credit is now being rolled out across the United Kingdom as a replacement for previous benefit schemes, including Jobseeker’s Allowance. It combines all available benefits into a single monthly payment, but this scheme has caused difficulties for many people who have made the switch or attempted to claim.
I made my first claim for Universal Credit on January 7th 2017, with the promise of being contacted within two working days for an initial interview at my local Jobcentre; one of two earmarked for closure by this government, meaning my 30 minute walk may soon become a 60 minute walk. As I got on with job searches in the meantime, several days passed with no contact. At this point I called the Universal Credit helpline: an 0345 number, and so not free to call like its JSA predecessor, which being an 0800 number you could quite helpfully call from a payphone as you sorted out your finances in the street (they’ve taken the customer phones out of the Job Centres, you see).
Thanks to the frustratingly long hold times, anyone who deals with the DWP becomes very well acquainted with Vivaldi’s Spring. Or at least, the first few bars. On repeat. In the lowest fidelity possible. Drilling into your brain.
“Oh, the claim hasn’t gone through. This happens sometimes. I’ll do another over the phone for you”. I could have digested this excuse had I applied through Royal Mail, but the claim was completed online via a form, suggesting if the claim “didn’t go through” there was a fundamental back-end problem in their system. However, the lady was polite and helpful and assured me I would hear back within two working days about an initial interview. This interview also didn’t materialise, prompting another lengthy call to Universal Credit to investigate. Somehow my date of birth had been recorded incorrectly and this needed to be rectified before a claim could be made. I was to bring my birth certificate to the Job Centre to provide evidence of my details. I felt quite baffled as to how or why they had gotten my date of birth wrong (I’m pleading innocence here on account of knowing when I was born and checking the form at the “this better all be right or we’ll prosecute you” stage of the proceedings).
Doesn’t the Government know who I am? Isn’t that why you ask for a National Insurance number on every call?
I took my birth certificate to the Job Centre at 11am as the lady on the phone requested, where despite telling staff I was only there to hand in some identification, waited 30 minutes before I got up and found someone to deal with my problem myself. The gentleman I spoke to – who like the telephone lady was also helpful and polite – explained that he knew somebody would be bringing in a birth certificate, but had been given no name by his contact, hence the wait.
“Give it 3 days for this to update on our system, and make another claim”, said Helpful Job Centre Man. I did, and you’ll never guess what happened next!
Nothing. The cycle of “It hasn’t gone through/your date of birth is wrong/take in your birth certificate” continued through several phone calls and applications. I’m now on my 5th attempt to claim, and my most recent phone call left me with the instructions to “not claim for a few days, as we need to wait for our central computer to update your date of birth. We don’t know how long that will take”.
I am extremely fortunate to be living with a family member who can feed and house me while I look for work. I’m fortunate I can use their telephone and Internet connection to call the Universal Credit helpline and look for work online. I’m also fortunate that I have no children or dependants, because I made my first claim a month ago and have not yet seen a penny of funding. People around the country are starving, shivering, and slowly dying because of the labyrinth of cruel obstacles thrown at them by this system. Suffering, mentally or physically, should not be a prerequisite for eating solid meals and turning the heating on. Having joined a Universal Credit “survival” group on social media recently, I was faced with some horrific stories of what people have gone through under this system to simply try and survive. Group members offer to post baby milk vouchers to desperate fathers, while many of the other comments are from people who simply don’t know what to do because of problems getting the funding, or problems because they’ve been cut off.
I’m not concerned about my job prospects at this stage in my life, and I imagine I’ll get a job much faster than my Universal Credit is resolved at the current rate. But there are many people, too many people, who suffer under the current system. But the Government are doing something: they’re taking away my Job Centre.