by Sean Meleady

Thousands of people across Norfolk are facing financial struggle after the government cut the £20 a week uplift to the Universal Credit benefit in October. Although it was intended as a temporary measure to help with the economic effects of the lockdowns, it has become a lifeline for many

It is estimated that 14,907 people in Norwich have lost £1,040 of their income with around 40% of them in employment. In June 2021 69,895 people were on Universal Credit in Norfolk alone.

Universal Credit was rolled out in Norwich in September 2018 and is a means tested benefit for adults under the state pension age not studying or training full time with savings of under £16,000. Most people who receive Universal Credit also need to agree to a claimant commitment agreeing to look for work

However, the Universal Credit rollout in the city was met by protests by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). This was after a pilot in Great Yarmouth resulting in reports of claimants going without income for weeks and landlords not receiving rent on time, issues that persisted two years later.  

Tory-led Great Yarmouth Borough Council voted down a motion proposed by Labour calling for the cut to be reversed. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith also supports ending the uplift.  

Keith Prince from Watton is currently unemployed whilst receiving Universal Credit and explains the difficulties he will face due to the energy price crisis

“I’ve lost £87 a month. The uplift is going when gas prices are going up and we are going to be spending more to keep warm. It’s a choice between eating and heating. I think what I’m going to have to do is to go to bed when it’s dark if I haven’t got a job, rather than having the lights on. ”

Prince also highlights the struggle that many Universal Credit claimants face particularly in relation to the 5 week wait to be paid

“When you make a claim, you don’t get any money for the first five weeks.  If you don’t have savings, you’re offered a loan and they take it off your Universal Credit. I’m still paying it back.” 

Prince also argues that there is a campaign to get claimants off benefits through sanctioning and stopping their claim.

“You’ve got to do an increasing number of things to avoid being sanctioned. I think the message has come on high to get people off benefit because they expect unemployment to rise”. 

Universal Credit claimants are among the most stigmatised groups in society, and often labelled welfare scroungers usually by those born with a silver spoon in their mouths who have never faced real hardships. However, 40% of Universal Credit claimants are in work – a savage indictment of an era of low pay, zero-hour contracts and austerity. Although the work of Norfolk Against Universal Credit and the support of Clive Lewis MP are welcome, more support, solidarity and outrage is needed to show how badly these measures are affecting the UK’s population. 

all images via N A U C

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