‘I feel like a failure’: Universal credit parents face mental health crisis
Controversial benefit system makes ‘budget and survival’ difficult, parents say as experts call for universal credit reforms
The increase in the need for universal credit has grown more sharply in areas already deprived during the pandemic than in more affluent areas, researchers said. Image: Pexels
The additional measures introduced in the framework of universal credit put “immense pressure” on parents who demand the benefit and push them deeper into stress and anxiety, new testimony reveals it, as experts have called for higher payments to prevent a boom in mental illness.
“I am a widowed parent of two elementary-age children,” Aurora T, in London, at York Universities and the Birmingham Covid Realities research project, told reporters.
“Our rent alone represents over 95% of our total profits. I have not been able to find a job that matches the children’s school hours. On top of all that, this month the government took money to pay for past benefit overpayments (made when my late husband was dying). “
Aurora is one of more than 100 low-income parents and guardians who have reported their experiences of pandemic poverty to researchers.
“Our situation is precarious, we are struggling a lot and we have done it for many reasons,” added Aurora, whose income is limited by the benefit cap. “I feel like a total failure.”
The reintroduction of job search requirements, deductions to repay loans which covered a five week wait for a first payment and the uncertainty around the £ 20 per week increase that is expected to be reduced in September – combined with increases in food, heat and school bills – were linked to parents becoming mentally ill, according to the report.
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Parents said juggling home schooling, spending enough time looking for work so their universal credit payments didn’t stop, and planning to make sure their kids didn’t go hungry or go hungry. The internet to catch up with class had a serious impact on their mental health.
Ministers must reform Britain’s welfare system to end elements of universal credit that are supposed to put additional pressure on struggling families – like the five-week wait for a first payment, the benefit cap and the limit for two children – and to ensure government policy did not “exacerbate psychological distress,” poverty reduction experts said in response to the findings.
Data from local authorities recorded between 2013 and 2020 showed an increase in prescriptions of antidepressants in areas where a higher proportion of people claiming the benefit, although the researchers pointed out that this does not confirm a causal link between them. of them.
Many parents have to deal with “additional layers of insecurity caused by their poverty and social security benefits” on top of the same pandemic challenges that the better-off face, the researchers said.
“The parents in this research speak for so many families who are struggling to cope with universal credit with all the stress and fear of not knowing if they can pay the bills,” said Alison Garnham, Managing Director of the partner. Child Poverty Action Group Research.
“Their testimonies argue in favor of increasing child benefits and universal credit reform, including ending the five-week wait for a first payment and making the £ 20 ‘Covid bonus’ permanent. week. “
Callen R, a single father of two in the North East, told researchers he “felt very bad.”
“All this universal credit business in which I felt I was forced got me deep inside,” he added. “Having had a heart attack in January of this year, I really think about the anxiety and sometimes the chest pain. Will this situation push me to the edge? “
About six million people were clamoring for universal credit at the start of 2021, pushed to an all-time high by pandemic layoffs and income cuts. But researchers at Covid Realities found that the increase in claims was “much flatter” in more affluent local authorities, where on average eight percent of people claimed the benefit, compared to 18 percent in disadvantaged areas.
The Covid Realities project, launched in April 2020, is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and examines the impact of the pandemic on struggling families by asking them to write online journals about their experience and participate in workshops as well. than political discussions.