Grandmother feels ‘stuck’ on Universal Credit due to working rules

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The two main conversations have been as to whether Universal Credit will rise with September’s inflation figure, and the new part-time working rules the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced for claimants. Janet, 60, from Crewe, claims Universal Credit and also works part-time and believes the system does not encourage her to come off the benefit because as of right now, she believes she would be “no better off” by upping the hours she works.

Janet currently works in a supermarket after having worked as an agency carer for nearly 30 years before this.

She works around 20 to 22 hours a week and claims Universal Credit to help top up her income as alongside her job she provides childcare for her grandchildren while her daughter works full time.

She said: “I usually work four days a week usually because I need to be around to pick up my grandchildren from school or take them in the morning. I need to look after them during the holidays too so I can’t really work more because then my daughter cannot work.”

Janet explained how she never imagined herself claiming benefits but she was left with “no choice” after her husband sadly died a few years ago.

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She said: “I’ve never been well off or anything or had a lot of savings so when my husband died, apart from the bit we had managed to put aside, I didn’t really have anything to fall back on.

“I wasn’t working at the time because of my health so I needed to get something in to cover the mortgage and the bills.”

Janet began claiming Universal Credit and later started working part-time and believed that she could continue doing this until she could get her state pension.

However, the cost of living crisis has not spared her and she, like millions of others across the UK, has faced significantly increased costs over the last year.

She added: “It is getting harder and things just keep going up, I can’t believe it. I don’t get anywhere near the same amount of stuff in the shops then I did last year and I get a discount on it too.

“I’m just getting by, but only just may I add, at the moment. My daughter is working a lot more too and is relying on me being able to take the kids.”

Janet explained that the childcare she provides for her grandchildren is a financial “lifeline” for her daughter because the current cost of childcare would most likely “bankrupt” her.

She explained: “The cost is astronomical, I couldn’t believe it when she told me and this was a few years ago when they were very little.

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“Even now, they’re too young to be left alone so if she’s working, and she is working so much now to make sure she can cover everything, they need to be looked after. I think it would be classed as child abuse if they weren’t.”

Janet says that due to these responsibilities she will not try and take on more hours at her job as the income she gets from Universal Credit at the moment is “worth more” than what any extra hours would give her.

She explained that it was equally a hard and easy decision and that she knew she would make more money than what she gets claiming Universal Credit if she worked more hours but due to the current working rules, her Universal Credit would reduce.

She added: “If I worked more I would lose more Universal Credit but I would lose even more because I know I would need to help with childcare costs because I wouldn’t be around to look after the kids.

“It would also knock my health even further because at the end of the day it is a strenuous job, and it could cause me to have to take more time off work which will hit me harder because statutory sick pay isn’t a lot anyway and I don’t think I even get it until a few days into being ill so what’s is the point of it, I would be no better off.”

Janet also noted that the option of getting a “better-paid job” was simply not a choice she had anymore as she sufferers from arthritis, glaucoma, and has a tightened chest due to catching COVID-19 in 2020.

She believes that she does not have the physical strength anymore to do other jobs and employers would not take her on due to this.

She explained: “Honestly, who would pick me? If you put me in a lineup with others wanting a job, then the last person you would pick would be the older woman with bad knees, who’s half-blind, and has a rubbish chest.

“It is my only option, I have to keep going the way I am, for now, I’m pretty stuck really.”

Janet doesn’t believe she will be able to retire altogether before she is 70 years old and believes she will be having to claim extra help for the rest of her life.

Once Janet reaches the state pension age, she could have the possibility of claiming Pension Credit if she is on a low income and Attendance Allowance for support if she has a medical condition or disability.

If she qualified for Pension Credit, Janet could also be able to claim support for housing costs, reduced council tax and help with heating costs as well as help with NHS dental treatment, glasses and transport costs for hospital appointments.

She said: “I don’t get any help now but once I get my state pension I will be able to claim more things to help me which I will probably be claiming until I’m gone honestly.

“I didn’t dream of relying on this but it is there to help people isn’t it and I need help.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of people every year through our welfare system, which offers a strong financial safety net for those who need it the most, including those with health conditions, and we urge people to check they are getting all the help to which they are entitled.

“But we also know the best way to support people’s living standards is through good work, better skills, and higher wages.

“Our network of Jobcentres continues to help millions to find jobs that suit them by accessing flexible opportunities, new sectors and higher-paid roles through job progression support.”

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