Viewers of a BBC documentary have slammed the 'morons' behind Universal Credit for "hiding their fat heads in the sand" – with a five-week delay for payment forcing people into a "debt spiral".
The last episode of three-part series Inside the Welfare State aired on Tuesday evening and focused on Bolton Jobcentre claimants Jenny, a sex attack victim, and Paula, a mum who has just £17 a day to live on.
Both have had to take advances on their claims to make ends meet and are living day-to-day.
Twitter user Martyn G said: "Just watching the BBC programme on Universal Credit and these Middle Class Morons who have been running the DWP have been hiding their fat heads in the sand with regards to the Delay in payments having a direct effect on hardship and foodbank use!"
Universal Credit is designed to help people who are out of work, long-term sick or on low-paid, short-term or zero-hour contracts.
However critics say there are a string of problems. People must wait five weeks for their first payment. If they want to cover the gap they must borrow an 'advance' against their future benefits.
Meanwhile, UC varies for people in insecure work with changing hours – meaning it's often impossible to know exactly how much you'll get until the end of the month.
Those people include 20-year-old Jenny who has recently signed up for the controversial new benefit, having taken a nine-month break from work due to the stress of the assault.
In the episode, she is shown to have found herself a job on a zero hour contract at a new restaurant, but her £6.30 an hour wages and meagre benefits mean she is struggling to afford her £60-a-week flat rent.
Two weeks in, she is forced to apply for a £250 advance on her Universal Credit, essentially a loan which will be deducted from future payments over the next 12 months (soon to rise to 16).
Universal Credit will top up her salary, but the amount she receives in benefits reduces by 63p for pound she earns in salary.
With it always being paid a month behind, this combination of factors means she never knows how much she will receive – and this is proving tough.
Later in the episode she suffers a bad fall and cannot work for 10 days, and with no sick pay or savings she panics and takes out another UC advance.
Three weeks later, she is seen again working at the restaurant but in that time has only been offered one six hour shift in a week, and tells the camera she is desperate to find a "proper job".
And in a final cruel blow, she does not receive hardly any money from Universal Credit because it is calculated from her wages last month – and does not take into account the difficulties she has faced this month.
Twitter user Amber Goodwin, chair of Hull and Hessle Labour Party, said: "We need a better system and we need to scrap the ideological 5 week wait. We need to give people more."
Later, she tweeted: "Give people more money so that they can prosper and not simply exist."
Jenny was a talented hairdresser before she was raped, having been plied with alcohol by a neighbour and assaulted in her sleep, she explains, and had dreamt of becoming an air hostess – but is now crippled by anxiety and bogged down with trying to survive day to day on low pay.
Twitter user Kerri Johnson said while watching the show: "I quote ‘it’s just the way the system is’? That is the issue though isn’t it? that the current system is driven by a ‘process’ but no thought for the impact on the person!"
Another viewer, referring to Jenny, was baffled by the short-term fix nature of Universal Credit, particularly in the case of the vulnerable but ambitious young woman.
They tweeted: "The 20 year old girl goes to the job centre, wants to work FT and gets offered a zero hours contract position with top up support through Universal Credit."
While Abigail, another viewer, tweeted: "Feeling saddened…seeing how just one unfortunate event can put people into situations that seem near impossible to live in, with no clear way of getting out. Thinking about just how many people live like this too."
Mum-of-one Paula, 34, meanwhile, was left with "a feeling in her throat like I've been smothered" and with anxiety levels "through the roof" after receiving her first Universal Credit payment – and with it a major shock.
Having recently moved in with her partner Aaron, the change of circumstances means Paula has to move onto Universal Credit from Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.
She had been receiving £164 a fortnight from JSA and Child Credit, but Universal Credit is paid a month in arrears – and she has no savings to see her through the five-week wait for the first payment.
Hoping the wait doesn't "mess us up" as it has done with a lot of people she's known, she tells the cameras: "A lot of people have killed themselves over it, haven't they?"
Needing to pay for a school uniform for daughter Lexi, work coach Lorraine offers her an advance – essentially a Universal Credit loan – of £1,200 to get her through.
This will have to be paid back at £105 a month, over 12 months, she is told.
But a major shock is just round the corner for Paula as she gets through the five week wait only to find £585.90 is deducted from her monthly Universal Credit payment.
This leaves her with £532 for the month – far less than she was expecting – which is roughly £17 a day for herself, her partner Aaron, and daughter Lexi, to pay rent, food, bills – everything.
Twitter user Thomas Hemingford said: "With Universal Credit and work, the system leaves people constantly chasing their tails, not knowing if they'll have money for bills. It's no way to live, you can't plan, and you can't build a life like that."
And then later: "Universal Credit crushes people. It causes severe anxiety and mental health problems. Not just amongst adults, but children, too. It pushes people into a debt spiral. That does not help anyone."
One viewer tweeted that they had worked in finance and analysis for 21 years before they "became unable to work" and went onto Universal Credit after moving towns.
They said they "keep meticulous budgeting spreadsheets for myself and even I came unstuck during the 5-week wait".
However, some viewers were not as sympathetic.
Tony Passmore said: "'The wife' in her infinite wisdom has put Universal credit,inside the welfare state on the goggle box, a full ten minutes I lasted before the inevitable happened and I started shouting 'just get a job then you sponging parasitic b*****d'."
While Nydon Mace said: "Work works for most people. JSA was a bigger handout than UC. How about you Seek a Job with your Allowance. We all started somewhere… don’t give me that 'you don’t know what it’s like' line."
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