So this woman who I have huge respect for asked me to write about my experience of Universal Credit. I said yes because I’m a people pleaser but my immediate thought afterwards was shit, I’m going to have to admit to being a workshy layabout, possibly bring down the wrath of the DWP and try to be politically correct which isn’t my strong suit. I apologise in advance for any words or thoughts that aren’t in keeping with polite society. And there will probably be some.
Oh and I’m not going to do any research whatsoever this is just my experience but as I already mentioned I’m a workshy layabout so that’s hardly a shock.
Apologies and disclaimers over here we go.
Universal Credit – what a shower of shit. Fortunately I know someone who can keep me calm and knows benefits inside out which most people don’t have because advice services have been torn apart since 2010 in the Tories ideological war on the poor and disabled people. Or austerity as the press like to call it, which apparently is over. It’s not, wake up and smell the Tory beans – if you can afford beans. Our government are proud of foodbanks because they show that ‘Dunkirk spirit’. For some reason Dunkirk is seen as a great British victory but it was a massive running away and foodbanks are not a thing to celebrate.
Anyway back to the plot. You have to apply online which lots of people can’t do for many different reasons none of which are rocket science to understand as barriers. For instance not being able to read or write, dyslexia, not having internet access, not having English as a first language (although there is an option for Welsh). BEING BLIND. I’LL SAY THAT AGAIN: BEING BLIND. Their advice to blind people is to get a sighted person to help but you can only get that advice if you can read the fucking screen because there’s no one to phone. There is a well established phenomenon called brown envelope syndrome when people are too anxious or scared to open brown envelopes so they fall into debt and have legal problems they didn’t see coming. The DWP I believe make their letters unnecessarily complex on purpose. You can get four letters a day which contradict each other – Universal Credit takes that to a whole new level – and as Americans like to say ‘that’s your tax dollars at work’. Millions and millions and millions of your tax dollars that could be much better used providing a safety net for people.
So you fill in the online form online, if you have capacity to, which gives you no space to explain your situation and then a few weeks later you get a work coach. Mine is called Ronaldo at Walthamstow job centre but outside of appointments it’s Gary Lineker in Basildon (names changed to protect the guilty).
So you go to see your work coach after being warned if you don’t turn up on time you’ll be sanctioned, then they keep you waiting for an hour because your work coach is at lunch but still booking appointments during his lunchtime. Some work coach and he’s getting me a job? And then he’s more interested in training another member of staff who is grinning and nodding like one of those car ornaments that were popular on the back shelves of 1980’s Ford Cortinas than speaking to me. I’m sat there while he talks to the car ornament and the computer screen. Car ornament, computer screen, car ornament, computer screen and I end up wondering if I should wave ‘oh hi just my life you’re discussing while you’re teaching someone to press enter when you want to send something’. AND IT’S A COMPUTER BASED ONLINE SYSTEM. Good luck I hope she goes onto great things at job centre plus (what is the plus about, are there job centres non plus?)
So eventually he notices I’m there and I’ve got every piece of ID I have, far more than requested, but my statement about rent was wrong by 4p because my tenancy agreement is apparently out of date so I have to go back the next week.
Next week the car ornament has gone but my work coach is still on his lunch break so I wait for him to dine again.
Note about work coach: I’ve worked most of my life when I haven’t been unwell, I’ve run my own business, successfully. I broke several child laws working for my mum who put me down on tax returns as a variety of Disney characters and wouldn’t be able to deny I was 12 because she was my mum. I know how to fill in a CV or job application and have done many times. What’s he going to coach me on?
I present the same paperwork as before and this week it’s fine so I now have a journal and a to do list. Before I get home I’m getting emails to enter my journal for agreeing to stuff. I didn’t sign anything and one of my things is seeing my counsellor and GP which I kind of thought were secret and confidential unless I chose to disclose. My GP, Ray Clemence, can give me medication and sicknotes and is a really nice understanding guy but my counsellor, George Graham, who is also a really nice understanding guy can’t really do anything except listen to me bleat on.
So then I start getting messages to read my journal and it’s telling me my Universal Credit will be affected because I’m on ESA. No I’m not, I was previously six months ago but I’ve had a job since then. There’s nowhere to reply to this claim so you have to phone ESA which is a whole other level of hell. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons anyone? Someone earned a lot of money deciding that classical music would be calming but after 40 minutes of listening to the same segment, not even the whole piece, it’s anything but calming. Then I got to speak to someone and I explain the situation patiently and finally she goes dunno why not phone universal credit? Err because you can’t phone universal credit. Oh that’s odd she says. Can you contact them I say? No it’s a different system so I can’t contact them on your behalf. Hang up the phone totally frustrated and two minutes later my phone pings to tell me to read my journal. Surprise surprise it’s telling me I’m on ESA.
Fortunately I’ve got my pet benefit advisor to talk me down from the hills of anxiety when all I’m trying to do is the right things. I won’t give her a football pseudonym because she hates football but she said this happens all the time. All I want is my rent paid and a roof over my head and my landlord’s agent to stop sending threatening letters. I’ve been homeless and obviously survived, but I was much younger then and don’t want to do it again. And I’d have nowhere to charge my iPod or Kindle and I’m easily bored – I need music and trashy crime novels to stop my mind racing especially since I’m on the dole and have nothing better to do with my time.
Where was I? Oh yeah endless claims that I’m on ESA when my bank statement and DWP letters say I’m not and I know I’m not because I wouldn’t have applied for universal credit if I was. I’d most definitely rather be employed which isn’t an option at the moment because my last boss was a nightmare and screwed up my mental health and my self esteem is at zero. Imagine going to work scared for the rest of your life, which was my life, but universal credit is worse.
So Ronaldo my work coach promises my rent will be paid on February 5th , I’m still panicking and my landlord is still in a strop so I phone up my landlord again and again. No payment. 6th 7th 8th go by and I’m starting to stockpile weapons by the front door to fight off bailiffs. People are telling me to calm down which is easier said than done. Long story short this goes on and on. My life. Remember that. But I had support which other people don’t have but still my reaction is to put on the loudest punk music, make death threats and smash my head against the wall (none of which impress my neighbours at 4am).
Finally the rent is paid and I’ve been given some money. My landlord is still in a strop and there’s no explanation of what I’ve been paid or how long it’s for so my mental health is still screwed up and there’s still no one to get clarification from and if payments will continue.
I’m going to finish with a random snoring analogy. Several of my previous partners have said I snore and I always denied it with no proof to back myself up because I was asleep when the alleged snoring happened. But eventually I had to except I probably snore. Everyone is telling the government that universal credit is deeply flawed, and they have evidence, and the government are still saying it’s not. I sleep on my own so snoring is no longer a problem but I haven’t solved the problem. The government are doing similar by having a committee looking into it, the results of which are very probably pre-decided, but they haven’t solved the problem.
To paraphrase the words of the band Killdren: get the Tories out before they kill you.
By Peter Rogers.