As a caseworker, I see clients with numerous Universal Credit (UC) issues such as entitlement, applying for additional elements and challenging miscalculations. Whilst matters that are often tricky to address in themselves, what strikes me most is the profound impact on emotional well-being, as well as financial stability. Judy is a strong case in point.
When I first met Judy, she was panicked and in a vulnerable stage. Suffering from multiple autoimmune diseases which are aggravated significantly by stress, Judy had moved boroughs to reduce her overheads and make her life more manageable. Her move automatically triggered UC, a process that is known as “natural migration”.
Judy lives alone and can only keep abreast of her bills and financial liabilities through very careful financial planning. What should have been a smooth migration, has been anything but – from issues with carrying over her entitlement for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) support group, to securing her housing cost element to adjusting to the loss of her Severe Disability Premium (SDP).
Judy feels as though she is being punished for trying to take control of her life, and consequently her mental health has suffered. For Judy, it feels like there is no way out of the problems caused by natural migration and that her entitlement to welfare benefits has been made more complicated; alongside her UC, she is still also on the equivalent to contributions-based ESA. In turn, she fears another re-assessment of her Support Group entitlement. Judy has received conflicting information as to whether she can revert to legacy benefits; she has lost all faith in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and feels completely unsupported.
Whilst we have been able to assist Judy, we remain concerned about the many people who cannot access help. Trust in the DWP has significantly waned since the introduction of UC. The promises of a fluid and easy transition from legacy benefits triggered when a claimant has a change in circumstances have been completely broken. The result is a welfare system shockingly unfit for purpose and thousands of disabled and in-need citizens left to fend for themselves when they need support the most.
I am still helping Judy, and she is now considering moving home again but this time into a property with relatives. Whilst jeopardising her independence, she hopes it will reduce the stress and anxiety associated with further complications in her housing cost element of UC. More than anything, Judy feels stuck, and regrets her decision to move boroughs in the first place.
As it stands, the Work and Pensions Committee are investigating the effects of natural migration. Having witnessed first-hand the overwhelming detrimental effects on the health of our clients as well as the instability caused to their financial circumstances, I can only hope that the committee recognises the strain put on these citizens of whom, after all, are just trying to claim the money they deserve.
* To protect the identity of our clients, a false name has been used.
UPDATE: Our evidence to the Work and Pensions committee has now been published.
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