Coilla Drake, Chair of Orkney Labour, has welcomed the recent announcement by Jeremy Corbyn that a Labour Government would introduce emergency measures to alleviate the worst aspects of Universal Credit. A Labour Government will replace Universal Credit with a new system that will be based on the principles of dignity and respect that will alleviate and end poverty, not drive people into it.
Coilla Drake shares her personal experience of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)
“I would like to share my experience of the DWP to illustrate what it is like, as it is very difficult for people who have been fortunate enough not to need to, to understand that and how it feels.
“The first thing I have to say is that the issues I had were with the system not the two people I dealt with in Job Centre in Kirkwall, who did the best they could with the system they had.
“For many years I was a full-time carer for my husband Peter, who had multiple health issues and dementia. His health gradually deteriorated over the years until his death just before Christmas two years ago.
“Our income was made up of his pension and attendance allowance and my Carers Allowance, and it was completely impossible for me to work during those years. On his death everything except Carers Allowance stopped immediately, that would continue for a few weeks.
“I knew I needed to find work but had no idea how long that would take. I went to the Job Centre on a day I was in town making funeral arrangements etc… stressful.
“At that time Orkney was in transition from Job Seekers Allowance to Universal Credit. Fortunately, I still qualified for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), so no five weeks wait thank goodness! I signed up for JSA to replace the Carers allowance because at £73 per week it was £10 more, though still not enough even to just survive on.
“To get that benefit I had to read the requirements including the sanctions rules, fill out forms online and sign a claimant agreement. Sanctions were quite frankly terrifying and frighteningly easy to get. All in all, I felt like a criminal, and not as though I was claiming help that I had for many years paid in to receive should I need it.
“It took me about seven weeks to find employment, not by helped the Christmas period. During that time, I did not turn on heating or hot water, in Winter in Orkney, because I did not know if I would be able to pay the bill.
“I was anxious and depressed, I struggled to find motivation to do much. When I got too cold, I went to bed and allowed myself to turn on the electric blanket for a while. Hopefully this will give you a picture of what that was like, and I only had myself to consider, imagine what that would be like for someone with dependants.
“Sadly, many citizens have bought into the “scroungers’” narrative peddled by some politicians and media, we need to forge a new attitude. We need to recognise the physical and mental harm done to many by this narrative and realise instead that illness, loss of employment or other misfortune could see any of us needing state support. We pay into this according to our ability, so that it is there to protect us all as and when we need it.
It must be a true safety net that treats people with dignity and respect.
“I do not want anyone else to suffer as I did. We need a benefits system which respects
the dignity of individuals, supports them when they cannot work and helps them into employment when they can work. For me, the General Election and a chance to get rid of this heartless Tory Government cannot come soon enough.”
Universal Credit is reserved to the UK Government, however, the Scottish Government does have power over some benefits and has also introduced new ones to alleviate the effects of Universal Credit.
Scotland has its own social security system, Social Security Scotland,with the core values of dignity, fairness and respect. Unfortunately Universal Credit is not devolved to Scotland and it has been shown to have created not alleviated poverty in the UK. A ‘Harsh & Uncaring’ UK – The Alston Report