It has been one week since I was told I would have to go through Universal Credit (UC) to claim Statutory Sick Pay for my fractured ankle. This is due to being a ‘low earner’ from my part-time job I have whilst funding my post-graduate studies. I have never had any dealings with the welfare system but with my interest in politics, particularly working practices, I decided to blog my experience to expose the unfair and inhumane process of UC.
I was completely unaware of what I was walking into with this process. I would also reinforce the rhetoric heard in the left-leaning media about the lengthy and potentially problematic online application. The first surprise is that UC is not an individual claim; it is based on household income. This in itself has Tory ideology written all over it. Even if you live with a partner or family this system assumes people living with you would be able to help you out financially. In some people’s situations that goes without saying, where support and temporary financial help will be given, but I’d argue that it is not consistent across all walks of life. I had to discuss this with my partner and we had to agree to go on this journey together; both never been ‘through the system’ before.
I am taking responsibility for the completion of both applications but I have been pulling out what is left of my hair doing it. The first thing I have noticed is the set up and language used on the UC application and website. It is obsessed with referring to ‘finding work’ or ‘finding more work’ and ‘making work pay’. Now, as a student who studies, at great length, employment practices and the contemporary labour market I’d recommend The Conservatives make ‘work pay’ by legislating against precarious work practices and reinstate collective bargaining with useful relations with trade unions; but then again what do I know? The language used on the website is really patronising and belittling to grown adults by referring to meetings with ‘work coaches’ and of course sanctioning people who cannot make appointments. You have a to do list which is streams of tabs you have to click on and insert very personal data and other information requested.
The initial stage was lengthy and took around 20-30mins per person but once I submitted all these details that’s when both our to do list filled up again. I had to declare my identity, which I understand is important, but you are passed through to six different private company providers. These now, of course after George Osbourne selling it off to his best man, include Royal Mail and Post Office. I selected Post Office as it makes sense as I have a driving licence and a passport as ID all provided through the Post Office. What I find is uncomfortable and even more frustrating here is six private companies making money from the UK’s welfare system.
I had to start by putting in all the personal details I just completed for UC claim which was incredibly frustrating they were not already linked. I had to input my details from my driving licence, as expected, but after submitting it four times the system ‘couldn’t verify me’. I tried again and again and double checked all the details and they were correct. I then, after eventually finding my passport a few days later, entered those details and luckily that went through first time. Thinking that would be enough it then asked for a debit card, which couldn’t ‘verify me’ after correctly inputting the details three times, and finally successfully using my Three mobile phone bill to to be the second verification document. I then had to answer five questions about what credit and other services I had applied for in the last five years, which I answered correctly, but these ‘failed to identify me’. Due to only being ‘95% verified’, and around 99% pissed off, I had to download an app to upload a picture of my passport photograph page. Just to make sure it was me as the other six steps were not enough clearly.
The ‘Post Office Verify’ app downloaded and I clicked on the link on the website but the app crashed and closed down every time I select to upload my chosen document; which is a passport and the only option on the screen:
I then decided to see what other routes were available to me if I stayed on the Post Office website. I wanted to see what the options were if did not have a smart phone or tablet. I read the advice and I was both in shock and I laughed. This is advice, linked to a highly personal and private welfare claim, that is given by a service provider delivering a service for the Department of Work and Pensions:
Yes, you read that correctly. The Post Office is suggesting you borrow a smart phone or a tablet with Windows, Ios or Android on it from ‘someone close to you’. I cannot believe it! I also explored the other avenue to ‘verify your identity’ which is a meeting at the Job Centre; which I can’t get to due to my mobility. This will be consistent with many vulnerable people whither this be through financial cost of getting to their local job centre or through a disability or caring responsibilities. I am one week into my journey, delayed a few days by my own doing and in the search for my passport, and I haven’t even confirmed my identity yet as the mechanisms in place do not work. That is one of the six private companies making money from the UK welfare systems for providing a sub-standard service.
This UC system is designed to put all responsibility onto the individual with limited support and maximum punishment for not ‘following the rules’. Pop-up warnings are common when confirming information of ‘facing prosecution’ if they are incorrect and having to read and confirm you agree with the sanction policy if you wish to continue through the process. The constant emails and text messages never give you a break during week days are a reminder of the frustrating system you’re going through. This in itself is not good for an individual’s mental health and could be embarrassing if someone sees an email flash up on your phone from ‘Universal Credit’.
I am still around 5-6 weeks away from the potential payment of my benefit and with the levels of frustration I am met with it is unreal. I am lucky I have food in my cupboards, a supportive family and a loving partner but some people may not have that and desperately trying to get this process completed as soon as possible. I don’t know what to do now as my passport picture cannot be uploaded so I will have to wait on hold tomorrow and speak to the call centre. However, this verification must be completed by this Friday so fingers crossed!
The safety net of our welfare system should be there to support people when they need it most. To give them safety, security and money to provide for themselves and their family and to most importantly keep their dignity. This system does not do that and attempting to ‘incentivise’ work by threatening destitution. This is the ‘5th largest economy’ in the world and I am ashamed of my UK Government putting the most vulnerable people in our society through this.