Universal Credit cut: Billericay mum has 'no idea' how to survive without £20 uplift

Man packing shelves at food bank

Article by Louise Lazell: An Essex mum said she has "no idea" how she will survive without the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

As of yesterday (Wednesday, October 6), the temporary £20-hike to Universal Credit has been scrapped after being introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep vulnerable families afloat.

The end of the scheme however has provoked huge fear from families across Essex including Michelle Moore, from Billericay, who said she felt "physically sick" when she saw how much money she would lose.

The 56-year-old started receiving Universal Credit around May this year, moving on from income support.

The mum-of-two - whose son and daughter, 19 and 20, still live at home with her - is unable to work due to her mental health after being diagnosed with depression and agoraphobia (a fear of not being able to escape) as well as caring for her son.

When Michelle saw the letter announcing the removal of the uplift, she couldn't believe her eyes.

'I can barely cope now'

Of the £369 she used to have a month - Michelle will now be losing £86 - leaving her with £283 to pay her rent, bills and feed the kids, with her bills alone amounting to £210 a month.

"I will lose £86 a month," she said. "I felt physically sick. I can barely cope now so this as well, I don't know how we're going to cope. £80 is a lot when you are on low income already, it means we will suffer with food and trying to pay my bills."

Michelle added:

"It's happening from today so I guess thousands will suffer with food and energy bills. It's all increased. It's diabolical."

The stress caused by the removal of the uplift is only adding to Michelle's mental health strain.

Her biggest fear is being able to pay for food and energy bills, adding she has "no idea" how they will survive.

"We will have to cut right down [on food], I can't even get to the food banks because of my agoraphobia," she added. "Times are hard for people and the virus is still dominant, I hope it backfires on the government. But they have high paid jobs so they don't give a damn."

'1 million pushed back into poverty'

Research from a professor at Essex University revealed last week that one million people in the UK will be plunged back into poverty with the removal of the Universal Credit uplift.

Matteo Richiardi, Professor in Economics at the University of Essex and Director of Centre for Microsimulation and Policy Analysis, warned the "step backwards" removing the £20 weekly uplift will push thousands of families back into poverty including 450,000 children by 2022.

Their findings found include 380,000 lone parents and children with lone parents, 180,000 living households with a couple and two children and 205,000 families with a couple and three or more children.

More than 150,000 households with at least one disabled person are also expected to be pushed back into poverty, according to their findings.

The charity Mental Health UK has also warned that axing the £20-a-week uplift will be a "catastrophic cut" for people and could cause mental health issues to spiral.

'It's possible it will be worse than before'

"The £20 uplift was actually a positive effect of Covid - that's not to say people were not directly affected in terms of losing employment but it was a progressive policy that helped," Professor Richiardi said.

"We had a very strong policy response which made distribution more equal and that helped lift people out of poverty. To remove that policy and go back to the before, it is possible it will be worse than before."

In practical terms, the median average income per month is around £14,000, Prof Richiardi said, making the average income for someone on the poverty line about £800 a month.

"If that is £800 and we are talking about £100 a month being taken away, that is a lot," he said.

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The people expected to be most likely to be affected by the cut to the uplift are lone parents, households with disabled people, black and ethnic minorities and families with more children.

Living in poverty means families will "struggle with all the basic necessities in life", Prof Richiardi added, causing "far-reaching consequences" such as health complications and education issues.

"They put in place a good policy and they want to remove it," he said. "They made a step forward and are going backwards."

Article by Louise Lazell, EssexLive