“Like going to a chippy that’s got no chips”

Episode 2 - ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State When Universal Credit was launched, it was promised it would be cheaper to run than the old system. Since 2010, an estimated £37 billion has been cut from the welfare budget and 25,000 staff working in jobcentres. The plight of this was highlighted in this week’s second episode of BBC’s Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State. The documentary visited Toxteth Jobcentre in Merseyside, where 2000 people sign up or move over to Universal Credit every month.

Each claimant is given a Work Coach, but following the closure of two other jobcentres in the area, Toxteth has become the busiest, meaning staff are over-stretched.

The first case study to appear on the show was Sue, 61, who had lost her job as a nursery school cleaner and so applied for Universal Credit.

Sue has been unemployed before but said at that time she was in receipt of the old working tax credits, which were paid weekly.

As part of Sue’s Universal Credit Commitments, she is expected to find 35 hours of work. This is not an easy task in a city where 1 in 20 people are unemployed. She said: “Now it’s all been put into one, you just don’t know where you are at, it’s so hard. There are so many things you’ve got to do - it’s just constant pressure.”

Viewers saw her initially take a 10-hour a week cleaning job at a pub in Liverpool, which paid the national minimum wage rate of £8.20 an hour. She felt she had to take it but described it as “horrible”.

Sue earned £82.10 per week working at the pub. As UC reduces by 63 pence for every £1 earned when someone takes on employment, Sue only ends up £144 per month better off.
However, she persisted and found another two jobs, taking her up to 35 hours a week, meaning she no longer has to claim.

It was hard to watch the working conditions Sue had to accept at her time of life, and the daily struggle of surviving on egg and beans just to make her UC payments last the month.

Another claimant, Zach, previously worked on building sites and warehouses, but struggles to find permanent work.He is applying with 15-20 companies online and putting CVs in every shop or business he walks past.It was clear he really wanted to work but just wasn’t getting the opportunity.

Despite one member of staff saying that they wish they had the time sit with claimants and meticulously go through their individual issues and barriers to employment, they simply don’t have the time. This was evident in the seven-minute review that Zach had with his Work Coach to update his commitments. The somewhat unsympathetic and sterile approach clearly is not making life easier for people. As Zach himself said “it’s a job centre, they’re meant to have jobs. You try walking out of there with a job. It’s like walking into a chippy and ordering a portion of chips and them telling you I’ve got no chips. What kind of chippy are you?”

Claimants feel unsupported and as if they are just a number not a person.

Catch Episode 2 on iPlayer here https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000f95b/universal-credit-inside-the-welfare-state-series-1-episode-2

Next week will conclude the series and we will be watching with interest and concluding our thoughts.

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