Below is the letter we (Hear Us) sent to a number of people including Damian Hinds MP former Minister of State for the Department of Work and Pensions and Sarah Jones Labour MP for Croydon Central regarding Universal Credit. Click on the letters on the right side of the screen to see the replies we received from Damian Hinds MP and Sarah Jones MP. I’ve published a copy of our letter below and via a link on the right of this page.
Hear Us are Croydon’s Mental Health Service User Group. We provide much needed peersupport to people suffering from acute mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorder, anxieties and depression; these people are the most vulnerable in our society.
Over three years ago we had to set up our Welfare Benefits Project to fill a gaping hole, which became evident after we became inundated by desperate calls for support, from people with an acute mental illness, with their benefits. Many were struggling with having to re-claim and manage their benefits following the government’s welfare reforms and the
introduction of ESA & PIP.
The majority of our service users struggle with and often find they can’t access mainstream support; and mainstream support can’t engage with and provide the type of support our service users need.
Living with a mental illness can have a massive impact on someone’s daily living in areas such as getting out of bed, washing and dressing, eating, leaving the house and socialising. These are people who society chooses to ignore and for many life is becoming more difficult now the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced Universal Credit
To our group of service users this is far too complex and baffling as it requires a level of computer literacy (they have to make the claim online, they need to have an e-mail account and they are expected to manage their account online.), many of our service user’s do not have a computer or access to the internet. Many service users find computers intimidating and they are unable to manage independently and for some they provoke severe paranoia.
The DWP have ignorantly introduced UC without understanding the different circumstances and needs of all claimants ( Universal Credit replaces jobseekers allowance but also Employment and Support allowance which is awarded to those assessed as being too
unwell to work.)
All the welfare reforms that have been introduced over the last few years require service users to attend medical assessments, which cause major stress and often a deterioration of someone’s mental health. Many of our service users need our help by accompanying them to these assessments as they wouldn’t manage to attend without which may lead to them
losing the benefits they depend on. This process often requires travelling long distances and the assessments themselves often lead to wrong decisions (evident by the number of successful tribunals our organisation has supported service users with) and their benefits being withdrawn until these decisions are successfully challenged, a process which requires a number of steps including a Mandatory Reconsideration and a Tribunal in front of a panel and a Judge, a process which most service users find daunting and are unable
People only need to claim UC if they need to make a claim for any of the 6 benefits that UC
replaces yet people are being wrongly instructed by the DWP that they MUST claim
Universal Credit if they have any change in circumstances, (e.g. if they change address in
the same borough – Croydon – in this circumstance they only need to register a new
address with housing benefit they do NOT need to claim Universal Credit) Moving on to
Universal Credit can mean a huge drop in income for our clients as they will often lose the
Severe Disability Premium and the limited capability for work component of their current
benefits– they effectively start back at the basic Jobseekers allowance rate.
When People first claim Universal Credit they have to wait at least five or six weeks, or
longer if there are any complications, for their first payment of Universal Credit. This has a
catastrophic effect on their lives, particularly housing, as they are unable to pay the rent
and fall into arrears, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. We have seen a
huge rise in homelessness in Croydon since the start of Universal Credit. Our service users
are also falling into debt with utility companies, the Council, TV licencing etc. due to having
no money at the start of their Universal Credit claims and some turn to “pay day” lenders to
meet their basic living costs, which has a long term impact on their finances and situation.
The DWP believes that Job Centres are equipped to support our service users. But many
are expected to meet full work related requirements and face harsh sanctions when they
fail to do so. This usually depends on who they are given as their work coach, an
experienced work coach will ‘switch off’ the claimant commitment (work related
requirements) with a ‘fit note’ from a health professional, at least until a person has been
medically assessed as to their fitness for work, but others, will demand that claimants seek
and apply for work – even when they have a severe illness and have not worked for
years/ever, they are sanctioned for non-compliance ( when they inevitably fail to meet work
related requirements due to severe mental illness) even with a sick note from their doctor.
Mental illness is a significant contributory factor to poverty and poverty causes and
exacerbates mental health conditions. Studies show 76% of people with mental health
problems are dependent on sickness related benefits. Current welfare reform is heavily
weighted against people with mental health problems. Stress caused by debt & poverty is
hugely damaging & compounds existing illness. It is well documented that the new welfare
reforms are discriminating against the disabled and even worse that these changes are
affecting people with mental health illnesses who are the most vulnerable in our society.
The system is heavily biased towards removing financial support to the most in need.
The vast majority of our clients cannot cope with UC and we are having to ‘hand hold’ them through the process. Once UC is rolled out for everybody we will not have the resources to do this. People will become destitute.
Payments for UC are completely chaotic – people are not paid on time and this causes huge problems, as our clients are unable to budget.
Vulnerable clients are not used to and are unable to cope with how Universal Credit is paid, Universal Credit is paid Monthly: when they are used to fortnightly payments and claimants are paid their housing costs directly but are expected to manage when they are used to their housing benefit being paid straight to their landlord.
It is possible to ask for ‘alternative payment arrangements’ e.g: more regular payments and housing costs being paid straight to their landlord however many vulnerable people are being refused alternative payments. Having to manage their own housing costs is very difficult and can even be harmful to some vulnerable groups e.g: People with learning difficulties, mental health problems, substance dependency etc, many CANNOT cope with the new system.
Even if an alternative payment arrangement is given, claimants are expected to manage in the new format ( monthly payments and having to manage their own housing costs) until that decision is made, this can take weeks or even months to set up and the process can often lead to delays or even missed payments, leaving vulnerable people in arrears and debt.
The impact of changes to the Welfare system on people with mental illness is leading them to destitution, eviction & homelessness, crime, hospitalisation, self-harm and suicide.
We are writing to you with some urgency to draw your attention to the impact of Universal Credit and the Department of Works & Pensions lack of understanding and lack of support for the most vulnerable people in our society, and, the short sightedness of the destructive impact it is having on people with mental illness.