For many disabled people, including myself, the need for all my benefits to be transferred into Universal Credit (UC), had seemed a long way off.
The reality is much closer at hand with the Government deciding to roll-out UC to the whole of the UK. This is despite the fact that ministers know the scheme is not working properly in the trial areas
Last year Frances Ryan of the Guardian wrote about one woman's attempts to claim UC. It seems little has changed and things may even be worse.
Many councils are giving dire warnings about UC. Delays in paying people the right amount of money could cause people to fall behind with rent payments. 25% of people are not getting the correct amount of UC on their first application.
To add insult to injury if people need to call the UC helpline it can cost as much as 55p per minute from a mobile phone. Also the form for UC has to be completed online. People relying on benefits are less likely to have internet at home and many won't have a landline either. Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May to make the helpline free at last weeks PMQ's. Predictably, she refused to do so
The Labour Party asked for UC to be stopped back in August, even former Prime Minster Sir John Major says it's messy, unfair and unforgiving. Yet this vicious Tory coalition of chaos continue to wreck havoc on the lives of those most in need.
Debbie Abrahams, Labour Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions has secured a debate and vote in Parliament next week to try and stop the roll out of UC. Up to 25 Tory MPs could join Labour in the division lobbies. I hope they will.
Many councils and housing associations now have a policy of applying for eviction notices after 6 weeks of no rent being paid. Meaning that people could well face homelessness over Christmas. Once someone is on UC they can ask for the housing element of their claim to be sent straight to their landlord. This is not automatic as it usually is at the moment. People could easily be unaware that they now need to pay their landlord directly.
What happens if other monies have not been paid, but housing monies have? Many people will use that money to feed their families and heat their homes.
Already, in the borough I live in it can take months for a Housing Benefit claim to be sorted. Mine took over a year because my housing co-op didn't send over the right paperwork! I dread to think what will happen with UC!
I'm worried about likely delays and errors of UC. But I'm far more concerned about how much money I will loose under UC.
At present those of us who have the higher rates of Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments, receive an extra £78.35 per week in recognition of the extra expenses involved in being disabled. This money is made up of two elements. Severe Disability Premium of £62.45 and Enhanced Disability Premium of £15.90.
The rationale for these extra monies is to try and compensate for some the extra £500 per month of costs incurred because of our disabilities.
In Universal Credit, neither of the premiums I am currently entitled to exists.
This is likely to mean that I could loose over £4,000 pounds per year. That is 23% of my total income after paying rent and council tax. That is a massive drop in income.
I'm fortunate that my move to this flat has reduced my heating costs by 50%. My previous flat was damp, and also had poorly fitted windows and doors. Making it very expensive to heat. A change of energy supplier helped too.
But no other expense in my life has decreased. All my bills, food and clothing have risen in price and I'm sure will continue to do so. I'm really not sure how I will cope financially. I'm in the process of getting a friend to sell some items on eBay for me, but that's only a short term fix. What I will do in the longer term is just to scary to contemplate.
It costs me £58 per week to have my mobility car, but if I give that back and save that amount of money I will have very little freedom. I went to a free event last night at the British Museum, where a friend was singing. It would have been almost impossible to get there via public transport in the rush hour. I could only go because I could drive & had booked a car park space in museum forecourt.
I'm depending on this week's vote. The roll out needs to stopped because of all the glitches and errors. But it must also be stopped to ensure severely disabled people receive the same enhancements as we do now.
Surely some Tory MPs will accept that what their party is doing is wrong? UC is failing those who need it most. The roll out must be stopped. NOW!!