'Universal Credit is pushing people into poverty' says single dad with disabled son in Sheffield

A father caring for his disabled son in Sheffield claims Universal Credit is ‘pushing people into poverty’.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 1:15 pm

Gary Perry says he used to be able to earn upwards of £1,000 a week as a welder/fabricator before being forced to give up work and rely on benefits so he could look after his son Nero, now aged nine, who has severe attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD); curvature of the spine, known as scoliosis; and sleep apnoea, which means his breathing stops and starts during the night.

The 40-year-old, of Fox Hill, who also has a 12-year-old daughter called Elle, is one of thousands of people who have switched to Universal Credit since the controversial scheme, which replaces a range of other benefits, began being rolled out in the city a year ago.

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Gary Perry with his son Nero, aged nine, and daughter Elle, aged 12 (pic: Steve Ellis)

He says the move has left him considerably worse off.

Before the switch last month, he received around £1,300 a month in child tax credits, housing benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance, plus £287 in Carer’s Allowance, bringing his total monthly income to £1,587.

He now gets £1,068 a month in Universal Credit, after deductions, plus his £287 Carer’s Allowance, adding up to £1,355.

Even allowing for the £117 a month he is repaying the Government for the £1,400 ‘advance payment’ he received to tide him over before his Universal Credit payments began, he is still more than £100 a month worse off.

Gary Perry claims switching to Universal Credit has 'pushed us into poverty (pic: Steve Ellis)

Mr Perry said: “I worked from the age of 16 and if I put the hours in I could earn £1,000 a week, no problem, but now I have to care for Nero.

“I'm only asking for what the Government says I’m entitled to but when you do that they treat you like a scrounger.

“They’ve done it so it bamboozles people, and when you complain they just tell you to write to your MP.

“Universal credit's not working. It’s pushing people into poverty. I have £60 or £70 left in my bank account to last us two weeks, and I don’t know how I’m going to do that.

“They say the monthly payments make it easier for people to manage their money, but you can’t manage your money if you’re not getting enough in the first place.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims Mr Perry actually receives more each month under Universal Credit than under the old system, taking into account his repayments.

But from the figures Mr Perry has shown us this only appears to be true when you discount Carer's Allowance and does not tally with how much is going into his bank account now compared with before.

A DWP spokesman said: “Mr Perry will actually receive more money each month under Universal Credit than under the old benefits system, and is also receiving Carer’s Allowance.

“He received an advance payment, so there are currently temporary deductions from his monthly payments to cover that. We have offered to defer these repayments if he is struggling financially. Budgeting support is also available.”

The Government began rolling out Universal Credit in Sheffield in November 2018 and as of September this year, the latest month for which figures are available, 16,604 people in the city now receive their benefits this way.

Sheffield Council and NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, which is responsible for procuring health services in the city, wrote jointly to the Government in March this year to express their concerns about the impact Universal Credit was having on the most vulnerable residents.

They claimed the change was affecting claimants’ mental health, and the lack of support being provided was placing even more pressure on already stretched local services.

In September, it emerged the council had to deal with more than 9,000 issues related to Universal Credit in the first five months since it began being implemented in the city.

Food banks in Sheffield have also spoken about how demand for their services has grown since the introduction of Universal Credit.

Sue Rose, coordinator of the S2 Food Bank, said the biggest impact had been the wait for the first payment to come through, which typically takes five or six weeks from the initial claim.

“Many people are having to get a loan while they wait for that first payment, and they’re not able to get out of debt after that,” she said.

“I think Universal Credit is a good idea in theory but you’re introducing it for people who aren’t used to managing their payments, without teaching them how to do so.

“People are getting their rent money up front now and if their child gets a hole in a shoe or needs a new winter coat they’re going to break into that because you’re not going to leave your children without.

“The money people are getting isn’t enough to live on, and the Government’s expecting food banks to subsidise that.

“I would say that over the last year the demand for our food bank has gone up by at least 15-20 per cent, and we’re seeing people who are having to buy candles because there’s no money to pay for gas and electricity.”

The DWP said it was unable to respond to criticisms of Universal Credit due to purdah, which prevents government departments giving political statements which could give any party an advantage in the run-up to a General Election.

But earlier this year, responding to a survey by the union Unite, which found nearly four fifths of parents on Universal Credit said they found it hard to make ends meet during the school holidays, the department said: “The benefit is helping people to improve their lives through work, and support is available to those who need it from day one of their claim.

“There are more people in work than ever before and wages continue to outstrip inflation, but we recognise that some families need more support.

“That’s why we’re investing £9 million in free summer holiday clubs and continuing to spend £95 billion a year on working age welfare to support families.”​​​​​​