This Is What It's Like To Be A Single Parent On Universal Credit

Imagine having £10 in your pocket and being told you have to make it last five weeks. I was gobsmacked. How were we going to eat? Pay bills?

In April 2018, I was given the sack, after a career spanning 20 years. I blinked back the tears, I couldn’t believe it.

I was 10 weeks into a new job when the unthinkable happened. I had just signed up for a new car on hire purchase, I’d just booked a holiday. I had rent and bills to pay and a child to feed.

I was nervous and apprehensive arriving at the job centre. It was unknown territory for me. I had always worked, often holding down a part-time and a full-time job, and yet, here I was. I sat in my local centre, with security guards standing over those of us waiting like Dark Riders from the Lord of the Rings.

I waited in what felt like a holding pen, prior to going through to the next stage in the process. An almost visible veil of resignation and hopelessness hung in the artificially lit gloom. Staff with empty eyes mumbled their questions on infinite repeat, so clearly tired of asking them. But I was grateful, we would eat. We could scrape by and it was time to own what had happened and start a new chapter. I realised that we are lucky in this country that such a service even exists.

Then, I was switched over to Universal Credit. Abrupt, swift and without choice. Previously, my benefits had been paid on a weekly basis. A flow and rhythm of money that was sparse but manageable. But this new system meant I would be changed to monthly payments and would be facing a period of five weeks before my next one.

To put it in context, imagine having £10 in your pocket and being told you have to make it last five weeks. I was gobsmacked. How were we going to eat? Pay bills? Under the new regime, the DWP would not even pay my full rent, which translated as even less food, even less fun, even less choice for my son and I.

I couldn’t understand it, my situation hadn’t changed but now we were staring into an abyss. If it were not for the support that my family give me and my son, we would be ruined. Without them I would now be bankrupt, homeless and hopelessly waiting for the next time I could go to the food bank. I thought of all those other people now in the same position as I, but who didn’t have a family willing to help them out. How did they cope? How did those families who carefully balanced all their other commitments and payments around this weekly financial rhythm cope with this change. People already living on a knife’s edge, paying weekly amounts to those awful high interest loan sharks, would be plunged head long into further despair. Why is it those deemed to be at the lower end of the societal scale are the ones penalised further? Do their lives not matter to the Government?

Despite the difficulties, I took some important lessons from this experience and I truly believe it to be my Phoenix moment. I gained the confidence to launch my own business, which taught me the importance of self-belief.

Being a single parent is being on a constant hamster wheel, and so many of us lose ourselves and don’t know who we are anymore because of the grind of doing it all on our own. Losing my job and being transferred onto Universal Credit was a hard knock for me but has made me stronger, and hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’m grateful for the experience and so thankful for my family’s ongoing support.


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