Universal discredit: letter to the editor

Further to Valerie Huggins’s recent excellent article on universal credit (UC), I’d like to offer the following experience of a family reliant on UC:

Over the last couple of years, my local church charity group has been in a position to help a ‘distressed’ family. Confidentiality prevents me from giving any details; suffice to say that this is a very needy one-parent family, moved recently to our area for their own safety. We were able to access special funds from our national office to provide essential furniture and white goods, and to continue to show our caring commitment by providing Christmas provisions and gifts and, later, birthday gifts for the children. The parent managed to provide adequately for the family for many months until their UC was suddenly reduced by about 40 per cent at the beginning of December last year.

With Christmas approaching, we were able to make up a small ‘Christmas hamper’, and to provide small gifts for each member of the family. A couple of months later however, the family was in real food crisis: a routine text message from me produced an unexpected response: a plea for some basic groceries to enable the parent to feed the family until the next UC (reduced) payment a few days later. As we left home with a box of what we were able to put together from our own kitchen, the parent called to ask if we could spare some loo-paper which, of course, we added to the box. It transpired that the family had been struggling financially for the previous couple of months.

I believe in providence, whatever that is: within days, out of the blue, our group received news of ‘Covid food-poverty’ grants being made available through a diocesan charity, thanks to a huge bequest from a wealthy philanthropist. We applied for and obtained a grant which enabled us to provide regular food-shopping vouchers for the few weeks until the family’s normal UC payments were reinstated. A colleague also generously volunteered to provide Easter eggs for the family, which we delivered, and for which the family was most grateful.

The reduction in UC had been as a result of a ‘fine’, though to date we aren’t aware of the reason for it, and we feel that it is not our business to ask. However, out of Christian charity and care for our fellow human beings, we felt that we simply had to provide urgent ‘support’ to this distressed family to help them through a spell of food poverty, no questions asked. A charity ‘windfall’ enabled us to do so, and we felt privileged to have been able to help.

I fully expect this family to be hit hard by the forthcoming reduction in the ‘pandemic uplift’ to Universal Credit after 3 October. It’s a pity that our local MP, who is the same age as the parent of this family but on a parliamentary salary of £81,932 for doing very little, doesn’t have to try to manage financially on the UC they receive. Had he understood or experienced true poverty himself, he may have voted to keep that £20 payment in place instead of doing the opposite. £20 may be a meaningless sum to him, but it’s the difference between coping and desperation for some.


Chris Tehan