Universal Credit – Beggars Belief

On Monday I spent the morning with some of the people I know with multiple disadvantages, some of the most vulnerable in our society. I was interviewing them about begging, why people do it, what would stop people begging and what people would do if they couldn’t beg. One of the things that became obvious was the effect that Universal Credit was having and how it forces people into begging. Having to wait weeks for any benefit to come thorough and then receiving a lump-sum, out of which you need to pay your rent and budget for a whole month, is often too much for people to manage.

“I’ve never had so much money, I couldn’t manage it, it was all gone in a few days”

“I am an alcoholic and was doing OK, but when I got all this money…”

“I became homeless because I couldn’t manage the money”

“Your money only lasts a few days, then what you gonna do? Beg, Graft?”

Some of those I spoke to had never had a bank account and had little chance of getting one. Most had little or no IT skills let alone the capacity to work their way around the UC website and fulfill their Job Center commitments.

I also visited the Fulfilling Lives team down in Hastings and spoke to the “voice of the streets” Action Group this week. Again, one of the things that stood out for me is the concerns that they have around Universal Credit and the problems it is causing for the most vulnerable in society.

The situation seems even more exasperated with the cuts to support services and the challenges that the DWP are under themselves [training and off-flow targets to name but two]. It also seems to me that the most vulnerable are “easy” targets when it comes to under pressure JCP staff who need to meet their own off flow targets. The most vulnerable, it appears, are the easiest to sanction (punish) so that targets are met.

It is saddening to see that we live with a system that punishes you for being the most vulnerable, for trying to cope with mental health issues, addiction, homelessness and the Criminal Justice system. It is even more horrifying when you know that the most vulnerable are often the victims of Adverse Childhood Experiences and trauma.