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Opinion

Universal Credit – don’t bank on support if you’re partnered

09 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Photo by Helen Cobain, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Stephen Price

Barely a day goes by without another headline confirming the dire state of the UK economy at present. From well-known high street store closures to rising interest rates and unaffordable mortgages, not to mention the ever-increasing cost of our utilities and food. Things are tough, and many of us are barely hanging on by a thread, and it’s often claimed that it’s those in the middle that are feeling the pinch the most.

Bevan Foundation research  published in September paints a solemn picture of the pressures facing families across Wales, with one in four of us eating smaller meals or skipping meals entirely, and an alarming 45% of respondents to their survey report detrimental impacts to their mental health due to their current financial situation.

There’s a certain reassurance many of us have that, should we fall on hard times, we can at least rely on Universal Credit – a payment from the UK Government designed to help those those who are out of work or unable to work, as well as those on low incomes.

Joint applications

What many don’t realise, however, is that claimants who live with their partners are required to make joint Universal Credit applications. This means that, regardless of your marital status, your joint income is taken into consideration, with the system assuming that partners are willing or able to share their income if, as happens all too often, claims are refused in their entirety because of the financial position of a working partner.

The Health Foundation found that over 220,000 claims that were made for Universal Credit at the onset of the Covid pandemic were unsuccessful – and 35% of those claims were rejected based on the income or savings of a partner.  

Charities have repeatedly called for changes to the system which can leave the most vulnerable among us open to financial abuse. And for young people just starting out together or those with a controlling partner for example, a job loss is devastating enough as it is – imagine the shock of being told to rely on someone else to pay rent or to put food on the table.

Gareth, from Cardigan, applied for Universal Credit back in the summer after moving to the area to be with his partner, and was surprised to have his claim rejected.

He said, ‘As I’ve only been with my partner for the best part of a year, our finances are completely separate, so upon applying for Universal Credit I was instantly surprised to see that the claim would have to be a joint one. My partner is on quite a high wage, and is fortunate enough to have savings, and this led to my claim being rejected’.

He continued, ‘Being without employment was tough enough without having to ask my partner to financially support me, which I wasn’t prepared to do. It felt to me like a punishment for being in a relationship and left me feeling very worried and anxious until I thankfully got back on my feet and into work again.’

Red tape

Potential claimants are also put off by the amount of red tape, and the lack of clarity around eligibility. Indeed, some 2.3 million people who claim Universal Credit are recorded as being employed, with many eligible people simply unaware of their right to claim while, conversely, many are struggling to survive on low wages but are ineligible for the same support their colleagues receive simply because they live with a partner. 

As it stands, the system encourages couples to live separately, often in social housing, in order to protect themselves from the punitive measures imposed on those with a working partner, or those whose cumulative income meets an arbitrary threshold decided upon long before the current economic crisis.

With Rishi Sunak refusing to rule out a real-terms benefits cut in the autumn statement, it’s clear that the benefits system isn’t fit for the UK as a whole, let alone Wales. Indeed, the Bevan Foundation has made repeated calls for a Welsh Benefits System, one with a clearer strategic focus that is fairer and less complex – an initial aim of the Universal Credit system that hasn’t been as successful as intended. They also argue that a devolved system would allow the Welsh Government to develop a more coherent anti-poverty strategy in Wales.

For the time being, however, we are all faced with navigating a system that seems to reward some, and to completely ignore the desperate need of others – especially those who rightly declare their true relationship status. We all deserve better.


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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
6 months ago

While more than £37billion a year is lost to the UK because of tax dodging alone typical tories are going after the poorest in the land. Large numbers of people, including children, are already going hungry, less UC will swell those numbers. Shame tories dont concentrate on stopping tax dodging and profiteering by business such as energy companies if they want to boost tax income and lower their ‘fake’ national debt figures.

jayne smith
jayne smith
6 months ago

If each partner in a couple pays their own tax and NI 100%, then they should get 100% of what they paid for

Dan
Dan
6 months ago

My Wife and I have been directly affected by this. My Wife is Disabled and classed by the DWP as unable to work due to her disability, she was claiming UC but them the DWP took it off her because I work and we were told that she is my financial dependent. I understand if a decision like this if a Person has chosen not to work but my wife hasn’t made that choice and the DWP agreed that, through no fault of her own, it is not possible for her to work. She has been told that she can… Read more »

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6 months ago
Reply to  Dan

This seems very wrong to me. I have disability and am in a couple I get pip, but also we get universal credit, every 1 pound he earns we get 55p taken from our entitlement so if he earned a lot it could technically cancel out any entitlement we have but the LCW component shouldn’t be affected by that so you should still get that amount which won’t get the 55p reduction applied to it. I would appeal as something doesn’t seem right there especially as she is getting PIP and has no choice if she wants to/can work or… Read more »

Mark
Mark
6 months ago

Don’t bank on any type of support if you’re male also, I was on JSA many years ago for about 6 months, took them 3 months to start paying me then that stopped by the next payment because I didn’t have an address due to been homeless briefly, it’s even worse under the UC rules

Andrea
Andrea
6 months ago

My husband has a single person state pension and because I’m under pension age he doesn’t get any extra, a few years ago he would have had pension credit. I wasn’t able to get UC due to his pension. I’m also losing out on national insurance contribution

Luckily I will have my private pension in a few months.

I have medical conditions that make most jobs not viable but they aren’t bad enough for disability payments

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
6 months ago

The tories would bring back the victorian workhouse (we seem to be heading in that direction) if they could get away with it!

I would prefer to see the taxes I pay go towards those less fortunate than me instead of the pockets of MPs.

Peter
Peter
6 months ago

So he’s been with his partner for a year and is now living with her. She is earning a very good wage, but he wants to collect benefits, and he doesn’t think it is fair?
Well i will tell him whats not fair, me paying income tax so that he can play Mummy and Daddy’s.
I have some very good advice to make his life easier. “Get a job”.

Johnny
Johnny
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter

And would you offer same advice to someone being financially abused? Some people are afraid to leave an abusive partner. But hey “get a job” and stop being abused financially right?? Unbelievable

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