"A constant cycle"
This month, the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group discussed debt; the experience of being in debt and how DWP can change practices to support people ‘out of the cycle.’
There is currently a disparity between the financial income provided by the social security system, and the costs associated with living i.e. food and fuel, and phone and internet costs needed to engage with public services and work.
Some people experiencing multiple disadvantages may have further monthly debts – for example people in single homeless hostels will have to use income from the social security system to cover hostel service charges. There are also many examples of people who will have debts from gambling and/or servicing substance addictions.
Paying off debts
To pay off debts, many people take out overdrafts, payday loans or engage with loan sharks, thus entering a cycle of debt which feels impossible to escape.
“It’s just a constant circle of paying this debt off, and getting another debt, and going round. That’s all I do.”
“I'm embarrassed that I can’t afford to pay these places back. You know now I’m working or when I'm on benefits or when I've got it all. You know, it’s all these type of stuff that makes me stop paying, man. And that’s why we suffer.”
Experience of debt
For people experiencing multiple disadvantages, fear of debt and managing debts can be a driver to drug and alcohol use, and living on the streets.
“I know people who have killed themselves over debt. I used to get stressed out over debt, I used to drink or use drugs, that’s how I dealt with life. And I know some of my clients and my friends are exactly the same, you know, guys go fuck this I’m out, I’m going to go and live on the streets. Because honestly, it's so much easier. I don't pay rent. I don't pay bills. You know, I don't have to pay anything, my life’s not that bad. And I had that thought a couple of months ago when I started drinking again, my thought was I can’t handle this anymore, I’m in too much debt. I can’t afford to pay all my bills - what I need is to go back to a doorway. You know, it was that thought I’d be safe there. I wouldn't have anyone looking for me, wouldn't have them letters coming through my door, you know, which terrifies me all the time.”
The Welfare Change Lived Experience Group offer the following recommendations to support DWP in working with individuals to pay off their debt.
1. Automatically take the minimum payment out of claimants regular payments.
This will support individuals to work towards clearing their debt, without having to regular administer payments which risk error. Securing automatic payments should be an easy process.
“They took that decision for me, because when people are struggling, we don't make them type decisions for ourselves. We can't, we have too much going on in the real world. The way I used to see it was just like that was another part of the world. You know, in the real world, I was finding money for drugs or clothes or new shoes, you know, or a sleeping bag, that was the real world. And my clients now are the same. I make phone calls to ask the DWP to take it out of their benefit straight away because they can't make that decision for themselves at the moment.”
“The amount of arguments I have to have and evidence and proof of why it's a good idea that they do that for this client is ridiculous. You know, I would have thought they would just said yeah, we can do that. No problem. But no, they need budgeting forms. You know, they need bank statements, you know, showing out how their money goes out. All their money goes out that week. It’s ridiculous.”
2. Direct payments to landlords and more frequent payment
Support with housing costs should automatically go to landlords, so that further debt does not accrue. Payments should be made on a more frequent basis than the monthly default, so that people are able to manage their budgets.
3. Work with debt charities around managing debt
There are organisations that can work with individuals to clear debts in a manageable way, thereby reducing the difficulties associated with being in a cycle of debt. We recommend that local DWP work closely with such agencies to ensure a realistic plan is in place.
“Years ago when ESA was normal, rather than a legacy, I could use ESA to pay for my water bill, in particular, because I was a vulnerable person… And so I personally think it would be great to be able to have some kind of deal with the Job Coach, and just say, Look, I've got these steps and can you help me clear them as part of my UC payments.”
Expert Link have been funded by the Lloyds Foundation to facilitate the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group. If you want to change your practices to improve access to benefits for people experiencing multiple disadvantages, please get in touch and find out how the Welfare Change Lived Experience Group can help you!