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“£20 sounds so little – but it means so very much”

Michelle, a mum on legacy benefits

Michelle, a mum on legacy benefits (those being replaced by universal credit), gave evidence to Parliament about her experience of not receiving the £20-a-week uplift.

Living on social security is challenging for families like mine.

My name is Michelle, and I am currently a single parent to 2 children aged 12 and 7. I have been in receipt of legacy benefits for 7 years, ever since my youngest was a baby, due to the breakdown of my marriage and my health conditions.

Prior to this, I was a working woman with a career in finance. Due to my health issues, I currently receive the legacy benefits of Income based Employment and Supplementary allowance, child tax credit and of course child benefit. April 2020 saw a rise of 1.7% to legacy benefits. 

Living on social security is incredibly challenging for families. During the pandemic those challenges have been magnified with social restrictions and home schooling, and as I have said previously, £20 sounds so little - but it means so very much.

I became interested in why we had not received it.

The main recommendation from my MP and the DWP was to consider applying for Universal Credit at this time to obtain the £20 uplift.

Since my youngest was 2 years old I was told my case would be migrated to Universal Credit regularly at the Job Centre and we were advised to prepare for the (at that time) 6-week transition of having zero income as all legacy benefits cease.

This migration still has not happened, and in that time I have not been able to save anything towards the current 5-week wait on my existing income, albeit I have squirreled away some tins of food and toilet roll. It is the best I can manage in my circumstances.

Is the suggestion that people on legacy benefits request to be migrated to Universal Credit a feasible option you might ask?

For me, to risk weeks of zero income for my family, would be totally impossible and have knock-on effects of missed bills and potentially surviving on whatever charity we have not already exhausted. Our local church used to have a community fridge which was closed due to COVID-19 so I would face zero income with little strategy in place to manage it.

The letter from my MP did inform me that there has been built in a 2-week 'run on' of my ESA if you ask to migrate, but we would still receive less and also face 3 weeks of zero income which would leave us teetering on the brink of a financial domino effect.

I cannot, as a responsible mother, take that risk.

I was also informed that “those on legacy benefits may have benefitted from other support such as mortgage holidays and income protection schemes". I am eligible for none of these and have no options to move home - I do not qualify for a council house despite being in an overcrowded home in poor repair that I can barely afford. I cannot afford to rent, nor would I likely be accepted. 

These suggestions are not a solution to the problems we face.

As it stands, being prohibited from accessing the £20 uplift pushes me further into using credit for everyday expenses such as the weekly food shop and utilities. Therefore, I pay interest on food, heat, water, light, shoes.

So, what would £20 a week mean to my household?

It is hard to pick just one thing, there are numerous options.

Food is usually one of the few bills that parents have the ability to reduce in hard times, so to give more food security and reduce the reliance on cheap processed food would be a big benefit. 

Being able to keep the house warm would help my arthritis and the asthma suffered by my son and I so that it does not flare up in the damp.

I could buy equipment for home schooling, or repair the kitchen tap, or not have to rely on hand-me-down clothes from friends and family who have already a shortened life from being worn. I could afford haircuts for all of us. I could finally finish my divorce, as I haven't been able to since legal aid was taken away, and this would help my situation so that I can move my life on.

Ultimately, the £20 uplift would go directly towards the health and prospects of a generation of children, my children, that have so much potential, resilience, imagination and compassion due to their circumstances and the times we live in. And all we need to do is to support their parents to get those children to a point where they can build a good life for themselves. This will not happen if - for the sake of £20 -  they are hungry, or cold or their needs aren't met.

The £20 uplift is the foundation of hope for children.

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, says:

“Families like Michelle’s are urgently in need of a boost to their incomes. Many were already struggling to stay afloat before the crisis and are now experiencing severe financial hardship. During this pandemic, parents on legacy benefits are doing everything they can to care for their children, but are having to cut back on basic essentials such as food, clothing and heating, and are increasingly turning to food banks or other forms of charity for support.

"Save the Children UK, alongside a coalition of charities, businesses, and MPs from all political parties, urges the government to make permanent the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit and extend this uplift to legacy benefits.”

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Tell the government to keep the £20 Universal Credit lifeline and extend it to those on legacy benefits.

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