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Social Justice

‘Gutted and furious’: How universal credit claimants feel about Rishi Sunak’s Spring Budget

We spoke to one man from Bristol about his disappointment with the Spring Statement. He said people living on universal credit are afraid.

Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement knocked 5p per litre off fuel duty – but didn’t find anything to help people on universal credit cope with rapidly rising heating and food costs.

“I was just absolutely gutted. Gutted and furious,” said Tyron Wilson, who has been living on universal credit and personal independence payments (PIP) since February 2020.

Wilson, 30, sat down to watch Rishi Sunak deliver his speech to parliament in a spirit of hope. He thought the chancellor might even reverse last October’s £20-per-week cut to universal credit. But it was not to be. No new changes were revealed.

In an already-announced move, universal credit will go up by 3.1 per cent in April. The figure was calculated in line with in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation rate in September 2021, but since then inflation has hit 6.2 per cent. Claimants are therefore receiving less in real terms.

“It felt like I’ve been led up the garden path,” Wilson added. “Sunak was saying, as Conservatives, we must care about fairness as well. And I was thinking, okay, maybe he might go against type, maybe he might give me help.

“It’s going to take a while to process the fact that there has been no help there. I’m really hoping that I can keep it together, budget wise.”

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A few years ago, Wilson was working in a communications job in London, when he was hit by a period of bad mental health that upended his life.

“Back when I was working in London, I never thought I’d be in this position, but it can happen so easily,” he said. “I had a nervous breakdown and I ended up homeless, living in a Salvation Army hostel.”

Wilson is now recovering, and has found temporary accommodation in Bristol, but it is extremely hard to get by on the income he gets from benefits.

“Things have definitely been harder since the universal credit cut came in October,” he explains. “To really put that into perspective, that’s £1,080 each year that was taken out of my income. It was a good fifth of the universal credit amount that was taken away. I don’t think many people will be able to take a hit of about a fifth to their income.”

Things have continued to get worse in 2022, amid the ongoing cost of living crisis. Prices for essentials at Wilson’s local Aldi continue to go up and his heating bills have spiralled to the point that he tries to live in only one room of his home, so he doesn’t have to heat the rest of the place.

“I try not to turn the radiator on at all,” he added. “I just put on another jumper, more socks. But you know, you can’t get away from using energy, you’ve still got to cook, you’ve got to do all these sorts of things. I’ve been really lucky that the weather has been so nice and warm the last couple of weeks. It’s like my budget really is in the hands of the weatherman.”

Wilson was therefore infuriated to see the chancellor choose to spend money on giving breaks to those who are more comfortable.

“I’m looking at things like fuel duty being cut by 5p and I just think, why is that a priority? Couldn’t you target it for people who are struggling with heating their own home, or being able to afford to cook?

“I’m really worried now, actually. It feels a little bit like being on the Titanic. And they’ve offered that the men can all get on the boats, and some of the women could get on the boats, but actually, let’s leave the kids, the ones who are least able to kind of deal with it to make their own way.”

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