BY JAMES TWOMEY
A man with brittle bones and arthritis has lost up to £100 a week after being forced on to a new benefit.
The claimant is just one of four people without a regular income who say they cannot cope under Universal Benefit, which was introduced in Greenwich.
Now their town hall leader has expressed his anger that vulnerable people are being forced to use food banks to make ends meet after the introduction of the government’s flagship policy.
Cllr Danny Thorpe, leader of Greenwich council, met with a group of residents last Tuesday to discuss their experience using universal credit and the impact of austerity.
One of the attendees at the meeting, Barrington, whose surname has been witheld and who lives in Woolwich, says the current universal credit system is not working for him. He has osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and is currently awaiting another hip operation.
He has already been refused Personal Independence Payment, which he previously received.
His wife, who cares for him, cannot claim benefits, so they are experiencing serious financial problems. He said: “UC is a complete disaster for me. I’m disabled because of my hip, so can’t work. My payments have gone down from £110 per week to just £6. We have to rely on family and are just about keeping up with the rent. Nobody wants to beg. It’s a cold-blooded system.”
Greenwich council’s Labour leader Cllr Danny Thorpe said: “I have listened to harrowing stories from people living in the borough who have been adversely affected by Universal Credit. We are calling on the government to realise the devastating impact of this policy.
“The royal borough is one of the most deprived local authorities in the country. As we set the budget for Royal Greenwich, it is clear that austerity measures are not working for many of our residents.
“The government is currently proposing changes to shift resources from urban areas like Royal Greenwich, which have more challenges such as poverty, crime and homelessness, to the countryside. These stories show how important it is to ensure that resources are kept where they are most needed.”
Another badly hit claimant is Adam, from Eltham, who says that one missed appointment has led to sanctions resulting in no payments for a year causing him mental health issues. Adam said: “I’ve have no money to pay my rent and my mum is now threatening to throw me out. I just gone down hill arguing with family and friends. I’ve thought about committing suicide twice now.”
Talit, who lives in Woolwich, turned to Welfare Rights following an overpayment of universal credit.
Talit said: “I told them about the overpayment from the beginning, but the current system demeans people like us. It is horrible being put through it. I am being helped by Welfare Rights, which is fantastic service. But I still have to rely on food banks.”
Jackie, also from Eltham, is now struggling after the breakdown of her 34-year marriage.
She said: “I panicked when I started getting letters about being evicted. I have always been a housewife and don’t have computer skills so it’s hard getting a job. I have started using food banks. I am living on my nerves and have developed mental health problems.
“I put on a brave race in front of my children, grandchildren and friends, but I feel embarrassed. I don’t want to rely on them as they have their own lives to live.”
Morenike, who lives in Woolwich with her eight-month-old baby and six-year-old daughter, says she has been refused universal credit because of her EU status and has been struggling ever since. Welfare Rights have taken up her case.
“I am a student nurse and don’t get maternity pay. The authorities have lost my documents about my settled status and indefinite leave to remain.
“I qualified before but now that has been stopped as they say I don’t meet the criteria. I have no money and we were lucky to survive through Christmas.”