By Jamie O’Dell
For most of us who aren’t the Conservative MPs who have questioned the necessity of this £20, it’s not hard to realise that £20 a week is a significant amount of money. Food, rent, heating, time with loved ones; all these are basic necessities that people receiving Universal Credit will increasingly have to weigh up against each other in order to make ends meet.
The statistics on this are frightening too, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Resolution Foundation finding that the cut could push between 500,000 to 1.2 million people into poverty. Likewise, the Trussell Trust has estimated that food bank usage among claimants of Universal Credit could rise by 20%.
What’s more, as energy bills, food prices, and National Insurance contributions all increase alongside with rents being upped across Stroud in the wake of it being named the ‘Best place to live in the country’, this cut could not come at a worst time.
Statistics aside, what will this mean for people in Stroud?
One person we spoke to, a single parent living off a total income of £12,000 a year, emphasised the struggle they were already experiencing to make ends meet.
“I work part time because I am the main support for my teenage son and I think it’s important to be around him for emotional support as well as to earn money.
“I cycle to work often and I only eat two meals a day so that my growing son can eat three meals a day.
“At the moment the cost of everything is going up, petrol, food, transport and my son’s bus fare to school alone is £20 a week. Thinking of having £20 less a week is anxiety inducing.
“It’s really hard to think of where to make cuts. I don’t smoke or drink, or go out, I don’t buy clothes. Most of our clothes are handed down from friends.”
Another person affected, whose speech was read out at last Saturday’s rally against the cut outside the Stroud sub rooms, highlighted that they are now working three paid jobs, having taken on one extra job to prepare themselves for the financial hit of losing this £20 a week would mean for them and their son.
“Work is not a way out of poverty. It is not enough to make ends meet.
“I am not telling you this so that you know I am worthy of benefits, I am telling you this to tell you that I am not the exception… 60% of people on Universal Credit are in work. We don’t need to be incentivised.
“I’m not poor because I budget badly, or that I don’t work hard enough. I’m poor because work is not enough to make ends meet and working is not a way out of poverty.
“I will be working most weekends now to make up this shortfall. So remember that it is not just the claimants who suffer but their children.
“When work doesn’t cover the cost of living, why should people be made to feel like a burden on the state?”
The damage and distress that this cut will cause and is already causing is clear. Consider this alongside the additional physical and mental health impacts resulting from overwork, stress, not being able to heat the house or stock the fridge properly, and children being deprived of the time and support of their parents.
Then consider the impact on Stroud as a whole £20 being taken out of the pockets of over 6,000 people who spend that money locally every week represents a significant impact of the local economy. No one benefits from this cut. Not even the short-termists in the Treasury.
The impact of this cut has also shown that it is not enough to simply fund Universal Credit more, as with so many people in work and/or teetering on the edge already, this is clearly not a system that is working. It is also important to remember too that carers and disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance weren’t even included in the uplift itself.
Neither is this solely a discussion about welfare. As we have seen, many people receiving Universal Credit have jobs, often multiple jobs too, with 2,817 of the 6,202 people receiving Universal Credit in Stroud being in work. It is the sign of a broken economic system when work no longer pays for so many, and any solution that does not, at a minimum, address the prevalence of low-paid insecure jobs will not work.
So what can we do? As of October 6th, this cut has been implemented and Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie has come out clearly in favour of the cut in her responses to constituents contacting her.
We know the current Conservative Government is prone to a U-Turn, however. Nor are the Tories a united front on whether or not to keep the cut. We can also be sure that the government is currently hoping that this issue will simply go away now that the cut has been implemented. So we must work to sustain the pressure on the government. You can contact your MP, ask for a meeting, join a demonstration, talk to your friends and family and, if you’re able, support local organisations because clearly this government will not.
The government is proactively leading us further into a cost of living crisis, so for the sake of thousands of people across the Stroud area, and millions across the country, it is critical that they reverse this cut.