People who have been claiming Universal Credit have given powerful testimonies about how their lives will change once ministers scrap the £20-a-week uplift next month.
One single working mother, Caroline Rice, described how she would have to choose between keeping her car or her internet once the increase – which was brought in at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – is cut as expected in October.
Another single mother, Amina Nagawa, described how it took her 10 years to be granted asylum after she fled Uganda after her husband was tortured for his opposition to the government.
She said that without the Universal Credit uplift she would struggle to pay for sanitary towels during the month and to provide food for herself because the cost of living was so high.
Asked what practical effect removing the uplift would have on her, Nagawa said her family would “suffer even more”.
“I already have next to nothing to spend on food,” she said. “I often go without so my son can eat something. I struggle every month to buy sanitary pads. Every day is a nightmare. I can’t afford to eat, let alone do what my heart wishes.”
The testimonies were heard during a session of the department for work and pensions select committee, which is urging the government to keep the uplift for another 12 months “at the very least”.
However, ministers have signalled they will end the boost to Universal Credit as a means to encourage people back to work and because the economy is opening up again after the pandemic.
But witnesses who appeared in front of the committee stressed that many claimants were already in work and faced the high cost burden of childcare. Official statistics show that about 40% of Universal Credit claimants are in work.
Rice, who works as self-employed childminder and has one son, said removing the uplift would force her to choose between losing her car or her internet.
“To take that £86 away from me… I have already cut back quite a lot from moving on to Universal Credit,” she explained.
“I’m faced with losing my internet or my car. And I need both of those to be able to attend my job because I do school runs.
“I need the internet for my child to access home schooling, homework. I really don’t know what else I can cut.”
Fellow single mother Vikki Waterman explained how the extra £20 a week made up 8% of her income and had meant a “huge amount” to her over the past 18 months.
“Prior to the uplift I was claiming Universal Credit,” she said.
“I have been doing so since 2018, when I went back to work. I think it’s important to reiterate that as a single income household, there is no such things as disposable income.”
She described how a party invite for her child was in some weeks “my worst nightmare” because she had to find extra money for them to attend.
“So it’s kind of a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul all the time anyway.”
The committee also heard from Gemma Widdowfield, a 35-year-old single mother, who told MPs she was forced to resign from her job as a police officer because she could not juggle childcare.
She said the £86-a-month increase had “made all the difference”.
And Anthony Lynam, an autistic single father to two children who went bankrupt in 2019, said he was already on a “knife edge” before the uplift was introduced – putting him in a constant battle of “food versus fuel”.
And he accused the government of dangling a “carrot” in front of vulnerable families before taking it away.
“It’s hard to admit when you feel you’ve failed your family…so to have that taken away, that carrot that has been dangled in front of us, it’s going to impact not just me as my personal households, but a lot of similar households in such a manner where they are going to be left with no options of where to turn to.”
In prime minister’s questions on Wednesday Labour leader Keir Starmer warned that 2.5million working families were “getting hit by both sides” with the “double whammy” of the national insurance hike to pay for the NHS and social care as well as the £1,000 a year Universal Credit cut.
“Why is the prime minister insisting on hammering working people?” he asked.
In response, Boris Johnson said he was “proud” of the government’s record throughout the pandemic.
“We believe in higher wages and better skills – and it is working,” he said.
The department for work and pensions has been contacted for comment.