SINGLE mum Lauren Anderson lives on a knife-edge, constantly in fear of falling deeper into debt but unable to get back into work due to Universal Credit.
Sometimes Lauren, who lives in Bradford, can’t afford to buy food or even top up her gas and electricity.
“It’s so wrong. I should be able to provide for my little boy but sometimes I struggle to even pay for food for him,” Lauren told The Sun.
“I get a sense of dread every time I go to the supermarket and always have the calculator app open on my phone, adding everything up to make sure I don’t overspend.
“But I dread when I get to the checkout too in case I’ve added it up wrong and I’ll have to put something back.
“I don’t like having to ask my family for help but I have to – I can’t see another way around it.
“Everything just piles up on top of each other and it’s so overwhelming. I feel helpless.”
The 24-year-old waitress first applied for Universal Credit in July last year, three months after her son Harley, now aged one, was born.
She had taken 52 weeks maternity leave from her job in a pub but knew she wouldn’t be able to afford to pay childcare fees upfront when she went back to work and decided to hand in her notice six months in.
Immediately her benefits and government-paid maternity allowance stopped – and it was five weeks until she got her first Universal Credit payment.
On Universal Credit working parents also get 85 per cent of childcare fees paid – but they must pay this upfront and for single mums like Lauren this is impossible.
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work
UNIVERSAL Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment.
One million people are already receiving it and by the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7 million will be on it.
But there are big problems with the flagship new system – it takes 5 weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.
And while working families can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to 6 months for the money.
Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.
It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the Government to:
- Get paid faster: The Government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
- Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
- Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.
Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.
Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email UniversalCredit@the-sun.co.uk to share your story.
The Sun wants the government to pay childcare costs upfront so parents can get back to work faster, as we’ve demanded in our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
Lauren added: “Universal Credit is designed to encourage people to get back to work, but it doesn’t work if you’re single with a baby.
“Universal Credit will contribute to childcare but you have to make the upfront payment for the first six weeks before they give you the money for it.
“Where am I going to get over £500 from to pay for his childcare?
“Even then childcare is capped at 15 hours per week, which isn’t great if you want to support yourself and get to and from work.
“Harley will only get 15 hours free childcare when he is two. What I can earn at 15 hours per week is an absolute pittance.”
After waiting five weeks Lauren got her first Universal Credit payment of £483 – but a large chunk was missing.
‘It’s disgusting that my payments were docked for maternity pay’
Her money was docked due to a lump sum of £1,300 for maternity allowance and holiday which was paid to her in the same month.
As this was considered income the government taxed her Universal Credit payment – known as the taper rate – taking 63p off for every £1 she earns over £409 a month.
Lauren feels it was unfair that this money was included in her earnings for the month and subjected to the taper rate meaning she had her UC payment reduced.
“I had to get an advance because I wouldn’t have had anything to live on. My little one would have had nothing to live on. Nothing,” Lauren told The Sun.
“It’s laughable to say this amount was ‘take-home pay’, it was the last maternity allowance payment I got. It was a benefit, not pay.”
“I think it’s disgusting. You don’t get a lot of maternity pay as it is.
“You start off with what you would get when working then they slowly decrease the amount up to 60 per cent.
Are you on Universal Credit? Tell us your story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and join our Universal Credit Facebook group.
“That they take money off you when you have a new baby is not right. It’s disgusting, it really is.”
The Sun also wants the taper rate reduced and work allowance increased.
And to make matters worse Lauren had even more money docked from her first Universal Credit payment to pay back the advance she’d needed while her benefits stopped.
It left her with £336 to last a month – and it wasn’t even enough to cover her bills.
‘I worry about how to feed my son – I should have to ask for help’
She said: “I didn’t have any money left until the month after when I got universal credit. I was worried about fending for Harley.
“I shouldn’t have to ask my family for money for him I should be able to do it myself.”
The Sun’s Make Universal Credit campaign also wants the government to reduce the amount of time people wait for cash to two weeks, down from five.
The single mum now lives with mounting debts hanging over her head.
She said: “I’m £5,000 in debt, due to my ex, who left after taking all sorts of finance out in my name, and never paid a penny.
“I also opened some clothing accounts just before Christmas 2017 and got into a mess trying to make repayments.”
“I’ve been trying to get the money together to get a Debt Relief Order, but I can’t afford the £90 fee.”
“I’m left with nothing. I do my shopping with whatever scraps I’m left with and need to borrow from step-mum and dad to ensure I’ve got enough to feed myself and Harley and we don’t get cold at home.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Ms Anderson received over £3,300 in income and Universal Credit during the first two months of her claim, and continues to receive over £900 a month now. She has turned down any budgeting support offered by the jobcentre.
“If Ms Anderson starts work she can claim back up to 85 per cent of her childcare costs and there’s help available for any upfront costs.”
Lauren disputes that she gets £900 a month as £100 is taken off each payment to repay loans she needed to take out during the five-week wait for cash.
How is Lauren Anderson doing now?
SIX months on from the launch of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign, we’ve revisited some of our most hard-hitting stories.
We spoke to Lauren Anderson again in June 2019 to get an update on her situation.
She told us that she’s now got a job as a barmaid in a pub working two shifts a week, from 10am to 5pm, earning around £400 a month.
Lauren really enjoys the work, but she’s worried she will fall foul of Universal Credit’s harsh taper rate, which reduces your benefit entitlement the more you earn.
The Sun wants to see the amount of money earned before your benefit starts falling slashed from 63p in every £1 to 50p in every £1.
Lauren said: “It’s really not fair. I’m in danger of being penalised for working. They should increase the working allowance threshold so single parents such as me aren’t hammered for just trying to work.”
The mum has also had issues with the childcare element of Universal Credit since she started work five weeks ago.
She says she was given the impression that she would get 85 per cent of the £80 she pays each month for Harley to go to nursery on the days she works up front.
But actually, Universal Credit pays her a month afterwards.
She said: “I had to borrow money off friends just to make sure Harley kept his place. Luckily for me my sister works at the nursery, and the people who run it are very understanding.”
She is less impressed with Universal Credit’s handling of the situation: “It came out of the blue.
“Why on earth didn’t they think it wasn’t worth telling me that I’d need to find the money for childcare up front?
“Were they embarrassed or something? If they weren’t they should be.”
The Sun is also campaigning for Univesal Credit childcare payments to be made upfront instead of in arrears.
We’ve reached out to the Department for Work and Pensions for a revised comment but it failed to respond in time for publication. We will update this story if we get a response.
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