GMLC has been campaigning against cuts to Universal Credit and in favour of an increase to all welfare benefits. We have been collecting photos of what £20 buys for our staff and volunteers to show what could be lost from Universal Credit claimants’ shops if the £20 weekly uplift is cut. The images above each show around £20 of groceries and cleaning/sanitary items from a range of different shops around Greater Manchester.
Between January and November 2020, the number of households claiming Universal Credit (UC) in Greater Manchester rose from just under 250,000 to nearly 300,000. This spiked particularly sharply for single-person households with no children, and for the first time, more private rental sector tenants than socially housed tenants in Greater Manchester were claiming UC.
Although UC does include a payment towards housing costs for tenants, around 70% of rents aren’t covered by UC, meaning that many tenants can’t pay their rent during periods of unemployment. As a result, large numbers of tenants have fallen into rental arrears or other kinds of debt during the pandemic, compounding the UK’s ever-growing homelessness and personal debt crises.
By January 2021, over 800,000 tenants were reported as being in rent arrears following almost a year of the pandemic – an issue exacerbated by UC’s insufficient Local Housing Allowance rates and spiralling rents in the private sector. Despite the putative ‘evictions ban’, evictions for those in more than 6 months’ rent arrears are already going through the courts, and the numbers of evictions will only increase as rent arrears build and the government eases current restrictions stopping landlords and bailiffs from pressing ahead evicting tenants in arrears.
As part of a package of measures introduced at the start of the pandemic, in March 2020 the government added £20 a week to the standard UC payment, increasing many people’s income by more than £80 a month. Though this still left many claimants struggling to afford basic essentials and housing, it was a sideways admission from the government that UC was too low to live on – which campaigners and claimants have been saying since it was introduced.
A cut to restore UC to its pre-pandemic reduced levels would be devastating. An average single worker without children in the UK would (prior to the temporary UC increase) see their after tax and benefit income fall by 87% if they lost their job. The pandemic has resulted in job losses on a vast scale, with many people reliant on benefits for the first time in their lives. A report from the Trussell Trust in February 2021 warned of UC claimants’ growing need for food banks, as one in five people on the benefit said that they are ‘very likely’ to turn to a food bank if the £20 rise is removed.
Despite the growing number of households who are now reliant on UC for their survival – and a likely spike in unemployment when the furlough scheme is phased out from July 2021 onwards – the government are still threatening to cut the £20 uplift at the end of September. They have also resisted pressure to increase other benefits claimants’ benefits in line with UC, using the pandemic to push legacy benefits’ claimants onto UC, which many do not wish to do due to the errors, delays and punitive measures built into the UC system.
Speaking to GMLC, Siobhan, who was on Universal Credit before the Covid pandemic at the reduced rates, writes:
“When I was caught up in the trap and I ended up on UC, every bit of money counted. I went into a state of shock when I was notified of what me and my daughter were meant to live off. You end up with not enough to pay bills, let alone food. I had an interest only mortgage, which meant that pre-Covid I would not get any help with housing costs for 9 months. Inevitably, if I had not managed to find some form of work, it would have resulted in being repossessed, which I was already risking by sacrificing my mortgage in order to satisfy other bills or buy food. The point came that I had to turn to a food bank.
It was the demoralisation, the failure you feel as a mother, the shame inside when the time comes that you have no choice but to have to turn to a food bank that, unless you have been there, nobody will quite understand. I was so tearful. But it was the compassion that the people at the food bank showed, reassurance that I didn’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, that meant so much to me. The £20 UC introduced during Covid is absolutely vital to so many people, especially when solely reliant on UC. Why has society come to this?”
We will continue to campaign against the entire Universal Credit system – it’s a failed experiment that has ruined lives. In the meantime, there is no good argument for reducing benefits as the Covid-19 pandemic’s consequences continue to unravel.
While you’re here…
Some actions you can take to help us campaign for a fairer social security system:
- Join in with the pressure on the government to retain the £20 uplift, extend it to legacy benefits claimants, and overhaul UC in favour of a fairer social security system. Use the #KeepTheUplift, #CancelTheCut, #20more4all and #UniversalDiscredit hashtags on Twitter.
- Follow and share Unite the Community’s campaigning against Universal Credit, Disabled People Against Cuts’ work on benefits and disability rights and other grassroots groups campaigning for a fairer social security system.
- Become a member of GMLC to help us independently fund our benefits casework, supporting Manchester residents to maximise their income and challenge unfair DWP decisions. In the last 9 months, GMLC has reclaimed over £620,000 from the DWP for Greater Manchester residents through welfare benefits appeals.
Read more from GMLC’s campaigning against Universal Credit and benefits injustice here.
With thanks to Siobhan and our Income Max campaigns volunteer lead Dan, who came up with the idea for this photo campaign.