Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the job market is terrible, and competition is as fierce as ever.
That means, unsurprisingly, there’s also been a big increase in the number of people claiming out of work benefits to help support themselves. According to the most recent figures, compared to 1.4 million in March 2020, before the pandemic, there are 2.6 million people seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit because they were looking for work.
I’m one of them.
Many in the former group, which I was also a part of, were claiming benefits because of low wages or short hours. I was working a zero-hours contract with short hours and had to claim Universal Credit in order to top up my income and be able to keep myself going. I was hoping to move into full-time work and get a role in editorial writing, content writing or communications, but then the pandemic hit. All the applications I made were halted and cancelled by recruiters, and now I’m still to achieve my goal.
However, despite the struggles that I’ve faced job hunting during a pandemic, there has been light for me at the end of the tunnel in the form of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift, which I started receiving last April. The uplift has boosted my monthly Universal Credit payments from: £317.82 to £409.89, an increase of £92.07.
Before the uplift, I would often be left with little money after paying for food and rent, and very often I struggled to save anything at all.
Before the uplift, I would often be left with little money after paying for food and rent, and very often I struggled to save anything at all each month. The uplift, however, has been very beneficial: it helped me purchase a heater when my radiators stopped working in the middle of winter and weren’t fixed for over a month; it helped me escape a bad living situation and save up for a deposit towards a room in a better place; it helped me pay to transport my things to my new place; and it helped me finally put aside some money into my savings account.
The uplift hasn’t only helped me, but also many other women across the country. One woman on the Young Women’s Trust Facebook Lounge told me that it was a “lifeline” that meant her and her partner never had to go without. Another said that as an out of work mum of a one-year-old, the £20 Universal Credit uplift meant that she could “at least cover the basics and make sure my son can come home to a warm home and a hot meal.”
However, it’s been reported that the government is considering extending this uplift – which has helped so many through this trying time – only short-term, or even removing it entirely. As just one of those people, I have to ask: if the government can find the money to pay billions of pounds for its ‘Test and Trace’ system, surely they can provide funding for the uplift? Being able to feed and house yourself is a basic human right.
The previous Universal Credit level was a struggle to live on for many – especially those who live in expensive areas of the country like London.
Ideally, of course, it would be great if the government could keep the uplift permanently. The previous Universal Credit level was a struggle to live on for many – especially those who live in expensive areas of the country like London.
At the very least, I want to urge the government to keep the uplift for a whole year instead of the rumoured six months. As my story tells you, it is self-evidently not a good idea for the government to scrap the uplift. The pandemic and recession are still ongoing, and that means doing so would only plunge people who are claiming this benefit – people like me – into further financial struggle.
Dionne Boateng is a research associate and writer working with the Young Women’s Trust