The Faces Behind The Financial Crisis

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“Darren was told last week he would only be eligible to claim Universal Credit if he gave up his course.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 25/05/2020 [Online] Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-students-story-highlights-challenges-that-lie-ahead/  [Accessed: 2020, May 26] 

There are faces behind the figures of every financial crisis and the voluntary sector in Dundee is beginning to see them. An unsurprising observation you may think but, reflecting with colleagues last week on the financial crisis of 2008, all were agreed there was a more protracted period between the origin and the outcome of that crisis. Our understanding of the extent of hardship often relies upon economic analysis but I spoke with a student last week whose story highlighted what challenges lie ahead.

Gradually, the wider economic tapestry is beginning to emerge. Locally, Dundee council leader John Alexander said “full recovery” could take up to five years. Days later, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak addressed the Economic Affairs Committee about the national prospectus and said that, due to lockdown, “… we are likely to face a severe recession the likes of which we haven’t seen” and projected “more hardship to come.” And, in Europe, Germany followed France and Italy by falling into recession.

In the week the United Kingdom went into lockdown, Rishi Sunak also stated that, despite the significant interventions he had put in place, it was impossible to insulate every individual and institution. To those for whom a sustainable future had been placed in jeopardy, there was Universal Credit. As the number of UK applications surpassed two million last week, with the Scottish share increasing beyond 186,000, I spoke to Darren Finnegan for whom Universal Credit is simply not an option.

Darren, 34, is a mature student. Having worked in various retail and hospitality jobs since leaving school, he studied software development at Dundee College and is due to transition to the University of Abertay in September. Like many students, he relies upon a student loan of £6,750 per year but that sum does not cover summer months. Around this time of year, he would traditionally have called his former employer at the Carnoustie Golf Hotel and secured seasonal work but it is, of course, closed.

Despite having paid into the system as a taxpayer for over a decade, Darren was told last week he would only be eligible to claim Universal Credit if he gave up his course. He has raised a dispute with the DWP. Darren also made enquiries about the Student Hardship Fund and Scottish Welfare Fund but will soon be relying solely upon his overdraft after receiving the final loan instalment. He said: “It is horrible it has come to this. It is very well saying people should just go and work but nothing is available.”

Having shaken the money tree for the employed, self-employed and voluntary sector, it does not seem unreasonable to Darren that Universal Credit should be available, at least on a time-limited basis, to students like him who have been left out to dry. Sadly, Darren is symbolic of those who fall through cracks in a fractures system and of the prophesied hardship still to come.

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