Letters

Letters: Universal Credit leaves people living on the precipice of homelessness

Big Issue readers react to articles on the real living wage, warm banks and the suicide rates of people on universal credit.

universal credit

One reader gives his personal experience of working on the universal credit helpline. Image: Unsplash

Big Issue readers react to articles on the real living wage, warm banks and the suicide rates of people on universal credit.

Universal Cruelties

Having just read your article ‘People on universal credit are more likely to consider suicide’ I’d like to give you a better picture, albeit from personal experience. I worked on the universal credit helpline as an adviser, trainer and on the safeguarding team for over three years when the contract was managed by Serco, and when the contract moved to Teleperformance. It is no exaggeration to say you are spending 35+ hours a week listening to the most desperate and disenfranchised members of society – of all walks of life – plead their desperation.

The job is so emotionally taxing. I myself had a suicide attempt and know several colleagues who had to quit following the development of depression and panic attacks. During training, we are told that it is very rare that we will get a safeguarding call (a threat to harm themselves or someone else) but I assure you I would get one a week. When you look at the financial breakdown of what people receive, it is not enough to survive, and that isn’t hyperbole. Take me for example: my rent is £850 but they will only pay £600 towards it as it is based on the local housing allowance (which hasn’t been updated in years despite rents increasing significantly). Council tax reductions are not guaranteed, neither are bills etc.

You’re left with zero disposable income. Therefore, you cannot gather savings for a mortgage, leaving you surviving paycheck to paycheck.

To say universal credit leaves people living on the precipice of homelessness is not an exaggeration. In addition to this are sanctions which, while sometimes the claimant’s fault, are often handed out punitively and I would argue zealously, often for the slightest infraction or even misunderstanding on the work coach’s behalf. To say people on universal credit are vulnerable is an understatement. Refugees, the disabled and prison leavers are very common ‘customers’. The number of claimants who told me they’d been stabbed, or shot or were sleeping rough is haunting. Universal credit is the bare minimum the government can get away with without inciting riots.

I have since left the DWP and now work in another field of civil service but I will never forget the visceral stories and pleas for survival, nor will I forget the desperation people are put in with no escape.

Darryl Miles

One Step Closer 

Last [month] in Westminster, the Renters Reform Bill passed through to the next parliamentary stage and is now one step closer to becoming law. This is so amazing. You and others have worked so very hard for this for such a very long time, losing a lot of good people on the way. It’s so great to see so many more forward-facing positive steps with many more to come. I cannot put into words how happy this genuinely makes me feel. I don’t think there are sufficient words or sentences to express how important this really is. Thank you all so very much. From the bottom of my heart. ALWAYS.

@m_echoes_p, Instagram

Strictly Classified

It was interesting to read about Al Murray and his being unable to find out more about his grandfather’s secret work in the war with the Special Operations Executive [Issue 1587, 23 October]. My oldest brother tried to find out about our father’s secret work with SOE which he never spoke about, but he was informed that such sensitive information was subject to a secrecy ban until 2045 – a hundred years later!

Clive Hopper, Swansea

Fair’s fair

I too believe everyone should earn a decent wage. The current world discrepancy of wages from wealthy to poor is an outrage. However, I continue to take issue with the fact every time our government asks for businesses to increase wages it’s not the government paying more. It’s businesses like mine, which are suffering and hardly keeping afloat. I pay myself 18k a year and all my money goes to the government in various taxes etc. I need help from the government to help others.

Justine

The longest wait

Most libraries are offering “warm banks” again this winter, yet the government doesn’t step in. Think of all that money wasted on PPE contracts to Tory supporters. We are waiting for the audit that will never arrive.

Danny Costello, Stockport

Idle poet

My goodness! Joe Talbot’s words in Big Issue Music section [Issue 1586, 16 October] ‘I feel our nation’s turning away from love’ certainly taps into the zeitgeist. Required: more empathy and grace in our relationships; more Freudenfreude… Yes! Joe says he always wanted to be a poet. He is one!

Dr Carole Ulanowsky, Southwell, Notts

Balanced view

Thank you Paul McNamee for your Editor’s Letter [Issue 1587]. I found it to be instructive regarding recent Jewish history in Europe and an even-handed observation of the present Israel-Hamas war. I very much hope that your desire for peace, justice and security for all will inspire others to exhibit compassion rather than further fuelling polarisation.

Jeremy Thompson, Sudbury, Suffolk

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