‘I lived in unremitting terror’: Flintshire councillor gives heartbreaking account of life on Universal Credit
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A Flintshire councillor has given a heartbreaking account of life on Universal Credit amid calls for a £20-a-week uplift to be reinstated.
It follows reports that families in the county have been hit hard by the UK Government’s decision to remove the increase.
Labour’s Alisdair Ibbotson, who was elected to represent Penyffordd last month, spoke candidly to colleagues this week about how severe health issues previously left him unable to work and claiming benefits.
He was also forced to rely on the local food bank, sending him into a spiral of depression.
Cllr Ibbotson, who now works for Citizens Advice, shared his experience at a meeting where members of Flintshire Council unanimously demanded the reintroduction of a Universal Credit uplift which was removed in October.
Expressing concerns over the impact it would have on people locally, he said: “Without having experienced the worst of the system, it is hard to describe the sheer, grinding misery of claiming.
“I could tell you about the panic attacks in the Job Centre, crying in the food bank, being asked ‘Why don’t you just stop being depressed’ by the person carrying out the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) disability assessment or being admitted to hospital after a deliberate overdose of prescription drugs.
“But nothing I can say could bring to life the unremitting terror of living every day under a system designed to punish, cajole, and occasionally starve people into work, regardless of the impact on that person or society.
“I’ve come a long way since being in the grim depths that I once was… but what I cannot do is stand by whilst the government kicks down people in that position now.”
The increase was introduced in April 2020 to help people struggling financially because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it was recently removed as Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government wanted to help people on low incomes by getting them into work rather than increasing benefit payments.
Anti-poverty campaigners have warned the decision will have a devastating impact on families facing financial hardship.
Council officials in Flintshire have highlighted the case of a mother-of-two who approached the local authority for help after the loss of the extra £20 left her unable to pay her energy bills.
Speaking on Tuesday (December 7, 2021), Holywell councillor Paul Johnson (Lab), who submitted the notice of motion calling for it to be reinstated, said: “The £20-a-week cut represents over £1,040 pounds over a year for anybody who’s on Universal Credit.
“A lot of families have been affected by the remove of the uplift and it’s going to be a very, very hard Christmas for many of these people.
“The use of food banks has increased since the implementation of Universal Credit, including in my own town of Holywell.
“We have to stand up for those in our society and those in our county who are going to be most affected by the change to Universal Credit.”
In a report presented this week, the council said it was looking at several ways of providing support to people impacted by the changes.
It includes referring those struggling to pay energy bills for specialist advice to find more affordable providers.
A government spokesperson said: “This government is committed to supporting families and people in need, we have provided billions of additional welfare support through the pandemic and continue to do so.
“Work is the best route out of poverty and the changes we have made to Universal Credit will see nearly two million working claimants better off by around £1,000 a year.
“The most vulnerable, including those who can’t work, can get additional benefits, and help with essential costs is available through our new £500 million support fund.”
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