Single mum forced to rely on Universal Credit as ‘maternity pay not enough’

‌Ana, from Somerset, claimed Universal Credit for the first time during her maternity leave in January 2021.

Since giving birth, Ana works part-time, helping others with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

Prior to giving birth, the 37-year-old has never claimed benefits or been out of work.

She said: “I worked right up until my daughter was born in January 2021. As her dad and I had split up, my maternity pay was not enough for us to survive on, so I applied for Universal Credit as a top-up.

“I never knew how the system worked before, so it was a shock to find out how little I was expected to live on, even with Child Benefit.

“Universal Credit is simply not sufficient. The stress and humiliation of not being able to afford the basics for me is the worst.”

The single mum explained that she has had to “cut down on absolutely everything”, specifically high-quality groceries and new clothes.

She continued: “The free hours of childcare the government says isn’t exactly free – just a discount on childcare that is already extremely expensive – and it’s less than 15 hours a week as it doesn’t take holidays into account.

“If someone could stay with my daughter, I would happily work all the hours I could – but I don’t because of the high childcare costs.”

As the cost of living crisis continues, many families have been pushed onto Universal Credit.

Around 630,000 families with children have been put on the benefit in the past two years, according to new figures from Action for Children.

The number of households with children on Universal Credit more than doubled from one million to over two million between November 2019 and November 2022.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Paul Carberry, said: “During the pandemic, the increase in Universal Credit claims was driven by single people needing help.‌

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“Now, with the cost-of-living crisis, the big driver of new Universal Credit claims is families with children struggling to meet their needs and especially lone-parent families.

“Our analysis provides more evidence of the devastating double blow of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis on families with children. They face higher poverty rates than others but also face more barriers to finding work or taking on extra work.

“We know many families with children relying on Universal Credit payments – including those in work – will find them inadequate to meet their basic needs.

“Despite benefits rising recently, previous cuts and freezes over the past decade mean the value of Universal Credit has fallen by around 5 percent in real terms since 2013/14.

“Food prices are still soaring as the cost-of-living crisis continues, and far too many children are going without basic essentials. That’s why Action for Children is calling on the Government to raise the child element of Universal Credit by at least £15 a week and abolish the Benefit Cap. Both measures would lift nearly 320,000 children out of the misery of hardship.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We have not been given the information needed to look into Ana’s claims, but the Government is protecting the most vulnerable with around £3,300 per household as part of a £94 billion support package.

“This is on top of Universal Credit changes so those in work keep more of their hard-earned cash, a 10.1% increase in benefits and the expansion of free childcare. We’re also continuing to hold down energy bills and help families with essential costs through the Household Support Fund.”

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