One woman’s play about her time on Universal Credit is heading to parliament

Sharron Spice was forced on to the controversial benefit after her job finished – now her play on how she suffered has caught the eye of the Universal Credit APPG

One woman’s powerful story of her suffering because of Universal Credit has been turned into a play that is set to be performed in front of MPs.

Actor Sharron Spice was doing temporary work as an administrator in London when her six-month contract ended.

When work dried up after that, Sharron was forced to turn on to Universal Credit for six months, an experience that she insists left her in extreme poverty facing mental health issues, eviction and begging family and friends for cash just to get by.

After learning of a man who died in her native Enfield after struggling on the controversial benefits system, she decided to turn her experiences into a play called The Perils of Universal Credit.

“I couldn’t believe the suffering that I went through,” she told The Big Issue. “I was so shocked by it that I had to share my story and put it out there. And I also wanted to share other stories where people haven’t survived.

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In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

“I was suffering with mental health issues while I was on Universal Credit. I was depressed, I was withdrawn, thoughts of killing myself came to my head. You can’t look after yourself, you can’t feed yourself, you can’t afford electricity, you can’t afford to have a period because you can’t buy sanitary towels. I almost got evicted and I had to get my MP Kate Osamor involved and I was in arrears.

“It was severe poverty – you have to go through it to understand it. So I said I’m going to write this play.”

Labour politician Ruth George saw the play and has now asked Sharron to bring the show to parliament to perform in front of the Work and Pensions Committee, which she sits on, after the summer recess.

George is the chair of the Universal Credit All-Party Parliamentary Group. Last month the group released a report called ‘What Needs to Change in Universal Credit?’ with evidence from claimants, charities and MPs.

Stories like Sharron’s are key to revealing the reality of how people live on Universal Credit and that’s why the show will be featuring at the Camden Fringe, playing at Chapel Playhouse tonight.

Sharron is also planning to take the show on tour in places where the impact of Universal Credit has been felt around the UK as well as next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

“Going on to Universal Credit was my last resort, I never wanted to go on it,” said Sharron. “I want people to understand that it can affect anybody. When I was working in the City, I heard about Universal Credit.

“I was scared but a little part of me was like: “No, that’s not going to be me”. But it could happen to anybody. It doesn’t help you if you’re working and it doesn’t help if you’re not working. It needs to be reformed.”

Catch The Perils of Universal Credit at King’s Cross’ Chapel Playhouse tonight at 8.15pm

Images: Sharron Spice