‘We’re already on a knife-edge’: Universal credit claimants reveal fears over impending cut

‘I’m just trying to put a brave face on for my kids,’ says single father Anthony Lyman

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 27 September 2021 08:58 BST
Anthony Lyman, pictured with his four-year-old daughter, says he is already struggling financially
Anthony Lyman, pictured with his four-year-old daughter, says he is already struggling financially (Anthony Lyman)

In less than a week, nearly 6 million people across the UK are set to lose £86 a month from their welfare support, as the government prepares to cut the amount people on universal credit are receiving.

A £20 weekly rise in the benefit was brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic to help struggling families, but ministers plan to remove it on 1 October, as they say it was always intended to be a “temporary measure”.

The government has come under pressure, including from Conservatives on its own back benches, to keep the top-up payment after being warned that soaring energy prices and increased living costs mean it is the “worst possible time” to pull the uplift.

But the cut is set to go ahead. A government spokesperson told The Independent the uplift was “designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so”.

As they prepare for the lower support provision from next month, universal credit claimants have told The Independent how they are feeling.

Kerry Purvis, 39, Middlesbrough, carer for disabled son

Kerry Purvis, pictured with her son, says the universal credit cut ‘fills [her] with dread’ (Kerry Purvis)

I lost my partner in 2015. He died two weeks before we were due to get married. It was very sudden. Because we weren’t married I didn’t get bereavement benefit. I have three kids and my teenage son is disabled.

My partner was the full-time earner. He was paid weekly. Getting universal credit once a month is a reality check. It lasts about two and a half weeks. I often have to rely on my mum for the rest of the month.

The £20 uplift massively helped. I could buy my kids’ school uniforms and I could get a broadband connection in my house for homeschooling. It felt like a tonne of bricks lifted off me.

I’ve been trying not to think about the cut. It fills me with utter dread. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Gas and electricity prices are going up and food prices have gone up, but they’re taking £86 off us – it’s horrific.

Anthony Lyman, 35, Northampton, unable to work due to illness

Anthony Lyman, pictured with his two children, aged nine and four, has already has to rely on support from charity Christians Against Poverty (Anthony Lyman)

I’ve been on universal credit since 2019, when I hit a crisis with my mental health and I had to give up my job in special needs support. I loved my job, but unfortunately life hits you. I became ill.

I’ve recently gone through custody proceedings for my daughter, whom I look after half of the time, and am in the process of trying to get the same with my son. But as a single father, it’s very difficult to get the support that you need to run your family.

We’re already relying on the local food bank. I use my sickness benefits for the daily running of the household. We’re already on a knife-edge.

These hardships being forced on us are just going to prolong the recovery rate of people like me. I’m just trying to put a brave face on for my kids.

Sonja Ferguson, 47, south London, working part-time

Sonja Ferguson, who has been supported by charity Working Chance and now campaigns for them, says she was shocked when she heard that the uplift was to be removed (Sonja Ferguson)

My job as a palliative carer in a private home ended in June. My partner is self-employed but hasn’t been earning anything during lockdown. We had to go on to universal credit.

I wasn’t aware of this uplift. I was shocked when I found out it was being removed. We will get £390 a month. It’s not going to cover everything for the two of us. Something’s got to give.

I’m studying a criminology and psychology course. It will give me a better chance of progressing in my career. I’m also working part-time. I work a night shift and go to university from there. It’s exhausting, but you do what you need to do.

I’m hoping to soon be able to come off universal credit. But I’ve worked all my life, and paid taxes, and I need it now – and it’s just not enough.

Brookemorgan Henry-Rennie, 23, south London, founder of social enterprise She Oath

Brookemorgan Henry-Rennie, who was supported by charity Centrepoint when she became homeless aged 16, says the universal credit cut will put her new business at risk (Brookemorgan Henry-Rennie)

I became homeless aged 16 and had to move into a hostel. I got a new job at a music management company in February last year, but I was furloughed in November. I found another job but that ended in June. That’s when I started claiming universal credit.

During the first lockdown I started my own social enterprise, and I’ve decided to put all my eggs in this basket. So it’s not like I’m doing nothing – I’m actually working full-time to make my business work.

There are government grants for self-employed people, but I’m dyslexic, so writing applications for them is a challenge. That’s a journey I need to go on, but the cut to universal credit will make this process harder.

You can’t take something off what is already a very small amount. £80 a month is a lot of money. We should stop bothering people who are on benefits. I didn’t think I would ever be on universal credit, but here I am.

Kim, 35, Wales, unable to work due to disability

My husband lost his construction job due to Covid in October last year. We applied for universal credit and waited nine weeks to start receiving it. He’s been looking for work but has had no luck yet.

It’s extremely stressful. I’ve got a disability and I’d prefer my partner to be at home because it helps, but financially and for the children, he needs to be working. Staying on universal credit long-term isn’t an option.

As a parent you eat less. I suppose it’s a sacrifice you make for your kids. And it’s going to be far, far worse once the uplift is taken away. There’s nothing that can be cut back on that I haven’t already cut back on. So it will literally be a choice of heating or eating.

Maybe £86 a month doesn’t sound like a lot to people, but when you’re having to count the pennies, it’s a lot of money to lose.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in