Controversial new benefits scheme unfairly targets disadvantaged and “vulnerable” students, testimony reveals.
Universal credit (UC), introduced in 2013 and due to be rolled out completely in July 2019, combines six existing benefits into a single amount paid monthly. These are: Housing benefit, Income support, Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits, Jobseekers’ Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance.
However, some people have complained that the scheme, which has faced setbacks in recent months, leaves those people who are most vulnerable poorer and less well off. One subset of people who believe that the new system is ill-equipped are students who currently receive UC.
Under the scheme, grants and loans such as Student Finance – the government loan given to students to cover living expenses – are treated as “unearned income” and therefore are taken into account when awarding Universal Credit, significantly reducing the amount of support students are able to receive.
President of the Scottish branch of the National Union of Students (NUS), Liam McCabe said: “For many students, they are seeing their income on a monthly basis being reduced by up to £300.” Mr McCabe, who called for Universal credit to be scrapped, claimed: “It is student-parents and students with disabilities,” who are most impacted.
One student, who took to the student advice forum, The Student Room, to voice their anger, claimed that any “student finance you receive will be deducted from your Universal Credit.
“I have two children and receive £280 a month UC. I have to pay my full rent from my student finance which leaves me roughly £5000 a year. It is tough.” Another undergraduate student with “three children” considered “Cancelling” their course as they were only eligible for “£68 a month from Universal credit”.
Single mother post-grad student Sarah-Jane Goodwin spoke to The Badger about her experiences with Universal Credit and student welfare. Ms Goodwin – who also suffers from Hypothyroidism and therefore could only take on a part time degree – told how she was unable to receive full student finance because she did not qualify.
The mother-of-two – who was left destitute after leaving an “extremely” abusive relationship – commented on the quality of the student welfare system, saying that they were “absolutely clueless” and that in regard to helping her they “knew less than [she] did”.
Ms Goodall who is in the process of trying to receive benefit from Universal Credit, said that “they seem a bit out of their depth” and that if “you aren’t fit to work”, then “there isn’t a lot they can do for you.”
When asked about the role the government has played in securing help for her, Ms Goodall replied: “The government don’t give a ****” “Post-grad loans and Universal credit were not designed with single parents in mind”.
Ms Goodall, who is determined to “rebuild her and her children’s lives” commented on the state of the UK welfare system stating that: “They need to basically look at diversity for student parents across the board and with a greater emphasis on single student parents when it comes to funding, benefits and the Uni system itself.”
Ms Goodall said that she would “continue to seek other areas of funding, through educational charities and also the DSAs for disability costs” but admitted that the “wait for these can be lengthy”
“Society is changing, as is the student population and they [the government] need to keep up.” She added.
Ms Goodall, who set up a Go Fund Me page in January, hopes to raise enough money to fund the high costs of travel to her children’s primary school – it being the only school offering child care – as well as medical costs to treat a hormone deficiency – something the NHS does not currently offer.
Universal Credit has received much criticism in recent months, with many people complaining that the proposed system is “dishonest” and “potentially damaging”.
The scheme, which is aimed at ensuring people are “better off in work than on benefits” has been accused of “dishonest advertising” with Labour MP Stephanie Peacock, stating that “the government no longer leads but misleads”. The Government came under fire last year after the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) posted a video on their YouTube channel claiming that the new benefits program “mirrors the world of work”.
However, many have criticised the DWPs approach, claiming that trying to “push people into jobs” is “not as easy as that” raising additional concerns for claimants who are student-parents and those unable to do conventional work such as carers and people with disabilities.
Some have also condemned the fact that claimants must wait six weeks to receive their first payment, commenting that the six-week waiting time is a “blatant” attempt to force people to “take the first job that comes along”.
“What job makes you wait six weeks for your first wage?” Another YouTube user added.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons