Thousands going hungry and ‘falling through the cracks’ of universal credit

A new report sheds light on middle-income families who have seen their incomes drop but who aren't eligible for universal credit

Thousands of people on middle-incomes risk “falling through the cracks” after seeing their wages slashed during the pandemic and then being rejected for benefits, a new report has warned. 

Researchers at Kent and Salford universities found 220,000 people were rejected from claiming benefits during the pandemic, many of whom had seen sharp falls in income due to Covid-19 and were struggling financially, but were deemed to be earning too much to receive universal credit.

The report, which was funded by the Health Foundation, found some had poor mental health and were going hungry because they couldn’t afford food. 

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Ben Baumberg Geiger, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent and lead author of the report, told the Big Issue: “We found that 15 per cent of respondents had skipped meals in the past two weeks because they couldn’t afford food.

“I don’t think many people would have expected that to be the case among this group who are thought of as not needing benefits.” 

A small number of those surveyed said they had been forced to turn to food banks after seeing their income drop. 

The most common reasons people were rejected for benefits included their earnings being too high or having too much in savings. 

More than half of those rejected said their income had dropped by more than 25 per cent due to the pandemic.

Katie Schmuecker, director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity said Covid had demonstrated how crucial a reliable social security system was. 

Schmuecker said: “Some claimants who find themselves ineligible for Universal Credit will be able to claim what is known as new-style Job Seekers Allowance or new-style Employment Support Allowance, but these are set at much lower levels. 

“This is leaving households struggling to get by on incomes that are not sufficient to meet their needs, which is having an unacceptable impact on peoples’ mental health.”

Geiger said he believed a debate was needed about what role the state should play in helping people out. 

“The system is designed for some people to fall through the cracks,” he said.

“The system says to these people ‘you don’t need benefits as much as others do’.

“We’re not saying these people are struggling more than people who claim benefits, but nevertheless, a lot of them have been having a tough time.” 

The Big Issue is fighting the unemployment crisis through the Ride Out Recession Alliance, bringing together the most innovative ideas and experts to help keep people in work and in their homes during the recession. Get in touch with what you think can be done to support those in need by emailing rora@bigissue.com.

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