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Universal Credit: the knock-on effects

Since Universal Credit was rolled out in Newcastle, we’ve been collecting data and working with the Department of Work and Pensions to help improve the system for the people who are most in need, through the ‘test and learn’ process. In this series of blogs, we’ll be following the experience of one of our clients, John*, as he enrols onto the new system with the help of his Fulfilling Lives Navigator.

John was sofa-surfing when we supported him in his Universal Credit application. John didn’t have a bank account, so his Navigator went with him to a high street bank to start the process for opening an account there too. This took 60 days, because John was homeless and had no ID.

Shortly after receiving his first full Universal Credit payment, John applied for a pay day loan at a cost of £19.95 to help with the burden of the payments he owed from the past five months. The delay in payments had led to a noticeable increase in John’s anxiety, which had led to unhelpful behaviours.

This anxiety was worsened when John was refused the payday loan he had applied for. John began to talk about suicidal thoughts with his Navigator and was neglecting his health and wellbeing, leading to significant weight loss.

This self-neglect resulted in John being admitted into hospital for an infection at the end of September 2016, with ongoing treatment needed. By December, this self-neglect deteriorated to the point of serious harm and a safeguarding referral was made to Newcastle Council.

During this time, John was also issued with an eviction notice for rent arrears, and consequently made homeless.

After being evicted from his supported accommodation, John was sofa surfing and withdrawing from heroin without a substitute prescription in place (methadone).  He missed a Universal Credit appointment on 21st January due to his increasingly chaotic lifestyle.

The foundation of the Fulfilling Lives Navigator model is flexibility, and this flexibility is so crucial to supporting people with multiple and complex needs. The rigid procedures of Universal Credit, alongside the delays John experienced in payments, led him towards a downward spiral and even less flexibility within the benefits system.

We are currently working with DWP to agree a more flexible approach to ensure our client group are offered the support they deserve, which we will detail in our upcoming blogs in this series.

*name has been changed for anonymity