The Price Our Unemployed Are Paying

“Having applied for Universal Credit in March, Emily will eventually receive her first payment in June – 70 days later.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 13/04/2020 [Online] Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Apr 21] 

Exactly one month ago on Friday 20 March, 24-year-old Emily pulled her last pint in a Dundee city centre pub and is now one of the 1.4 million new Universal Credit applicants. The Monday after her last shift, she went to the Wellgate Job Centre to register as unemployed but the door was locked. The sign said: “We are working hard to process your claim and therefore we are limiting customers attending…” She said: “At that point, I had not made a claim yet. That’s why I was there – to find out how.”

The sign also contained a website address and a phone number so she decided to phone the Department for Work and Pensions but could not get through. She called back on the Tuesday at 8am and, after waiting for six hours, she finally spoke to someone who said they could not process Universal Credit applications over the phone and she would need to apply online. She did so and then waited seven days until she got a call to schedule an appointment for her first meeting four weeks away.

On Friday of that week, exactly seven days after her last shift, Emily received her wages for March and has her telephone appointment next Monday. However, as a single young woman living alone, money is getting tight having not received a full month’s salary in March. Emily applied for a crisis grant via the Scottish Welfare Fund but is not entitled to one because she has a pending Universal Credit application and she also refused to apply for a short-term benefit advance via the DWP because it is a loan as opposed to a grant.

Next Monday, assuming her application is processed, Emily will be told she must wait five more weeks until her first Universal Credit payment unless she takes a benefit advance, which is a loan she must pay back. So, having first managed to contact the DWP and submitted an application on March 23, the earliest point at which she will receive a payment will be June 1. Yet, she says, she has to pay rent three times, electricity 10 times and feed herself for exactly 70 days before then.

Thérèse Coffey, the UK Cabinet Secretary for Work and Pensions, announced last Tuesday that 1.4 million new claims had been made for Universal Credit since 16 March. Only three days before Ms Coffey’s announcement, The Food Foundation reported that 1.5 million had gone without food for a whole day during the same period of time. Emily said: “If it was not for my mum giving me some cash, I would be numbered among the 1.5 million as well.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that unemployment will reach 10 per cent with an estimated annual cost of £9.6 billion, which is a fraction of the value Emily and her 1.4 million co-workers contribute to our economy and our lives.