Big Issue readers react to articles on the real living wage, warm banks and the suicide rates of people on universal credit.
Having just read your article ‘People on universal credit are more likely to consider suicide’ I’d like to give you a better picture, albeit from personal experience. I worked on the universal credit helpline as an adviser, trainer and on the safeguarding team for over three years when the contract was managed by Serco, and when the contract moved to Teleperformance. It is no exaggeration to say you are spending 35+ hours a week listening to the most desperate and disenfranchised members of society – of all walks of life – plead their desperation.
The job is so emotionally taxing. I myself had a suicide attempt and know several colleagues who had to quit following the development of depression and panic attacks. During training, we are told that it is very rare that we will get a safeguarding call (a threat to harm themselves or someone else) but I assure you I would get one a week. When you look at the financial breakdown of what people receive, it is not enough to survive, and that isn’t hyperbole. Take me for example: my rent is £850 but they will only pay £600 towards it as it is based on the local housing allowance (which hasn’t been updated in years despite rents increasing significantly). Council tax reductions are not guaranteed, neither are bills etc.
You’re left with zero disposable income. Therefore, you cannot gather savings for a mortgage, leaving you surviving paycheck to paycheck.
To say universal credit leaves people living on the precipice of homelessness is not an exaggeration. In addition to this are sanctions which, while sometimes the claimant’s fault, are often handed out punitively and I would argue zealously, often for the slightest infraction or even misunderstanding on the work coach’s behalf. To say people on universal credit are vulnerable is an understatement. Refugees, the disabled and prison leavers are very common ‘customers’. The number of claimants who told me they’d been stabbed, or shot or were sleeping rough is haunting. Universal credit is the bare minimum the government can get away with without inciting riots.
I have since left the DWP and now work in another field of civil service but I will never forget the visceral stories and pleas for survival, nor will I forget the desperation people are put in with no escape.