Foodbank Mum Meets Universal Credit Director

“Neil Couling was clear that there are no plans to review or halt the five week wait for Universal Credit.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 28/10/2019 [Online], Available:  [Accessed: 2019, Oct 29]

Milly Graham has had a turbulent three years having survived domestic violence, sexual assault and a suicide attempt while fighting back against anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. However, among her greatest travails in recent times, Milly, 46, cites Universal Credit and her interactions with what she describes as an unyielding social security system neither fit for purpose nor adequately equipped to tactfully handle vulnerable people with complex mental health issues.

The late Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, once said: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” Having experienced what Milly has, you could forgive her for choosing to bow out and wash her hands of this particular conflict. To the contrary, she has admirably taken to social media, tweeting her experiences of claiming benefits and seeking support from foodbanks under the pseudonym @FoodbankMum.

Last week, Neil Couling, the Director General of Universal Credit met face-to-face with Milly following a dialogue between them on social media. She shared with him her experiences of physical and verbal violence, about leaving home one night and consuming six packets of paracetamol with a bottle of vodka in a secluded woodland area only to be found three hours later by a police dog. She was taken unconscious to hospital while vomiting blood as her organs began to fail and her life ebbed away.

Fortunately, Milly’s life was saved and she was referred to Women’s Aid. However, seven months into her recovery journey she suffered a devastating setback when she was sexually assaulted while walking her dog. She then applied for Universal Credit and requested a female work coach but was provided with a male who, in the hearing of others in a busy Job Centre, exposed her story of sexual assault, domestic violence, attempted suicide and anxiety without ever being offered a private interview room.

Milly said: “As I left that day, I absolutely sobbed my heart out. My mental health was completely breaking down and I went home and cut all my hair off.” Visibly moved by her story, Milly said: “Neil [Couling] listened to me and showed great empathy. He said this should never have happened and apologised.” She told me last week: “I still bear the scars of domestic violence and sexual assault but Universal Credit has not only reopened those wounds but has, in fact, cut much deeper.”

Author John Steinbeck once wrote: “A sad soul kills quicker than the germ.” I have never observed a reform to welfare like Universal Credit that has inflicted so much misery upon individuals and, while Milly was optimistic following the meeting, she still believes there are many failings related to people with mental ill health. Sadly, Neil Couling made it clear to her that there are no plans review or halt the five week wait for Universal Credit and so, the unfolding litany of misery continues.