A study by university researchers has found that the effects of claiming universal credit led to some claimants considering suicide.
The report, ‘“It’s hitting people that can least afford it the hardest” the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit in two North East England localities: a qualitative study.’ was carried out by staff at Newcastle and Teesside Universities.
The study found that the process of claiming and the threats of sanctions affected people’s physical and mental health:
“UC adversely affected claimant’s financial security, physical and mental health, social and family lives and employment prospects. Managing the UC claims process and increased conditionality, combined with the threat of sanctions, exacerbated long term health conditions and impacted so negatively on participant’s mental health that some had considered suicide.”
One armed forces veteran told the researchers:
“I ended up being treated for depression and anxiety, anyway, as well as the insomnia, still on medication now. I’m a lot better than I was then. I really was at the lowest ebb that I’ve ever been in my life I think … Universal Credit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It really did sort of drag me really, really to a low position, where I don’t want to be sort of thrown into again.”
Amongst 33 claimants interviewed by the researchers, six said that they had considered suicide:
“I got to a stage where I’d actually planned taking my life. It gets me upset when I talk about it … I could’ve easily done something horrific because these people at the end of the phone … that anxiety I was put through drove me to a place where nobody should be.”
The researchers also talked to staff working with claimants, who were equally damning about the effects of claiming UC. One explained:
“The claimant commitment on UC is a blanket approach until your vulnerabilities and health conditions and limitations are identified. So sometimes people don’t attend their first appointment because they don’t quite understand. They might have a literacy problem or learning disability, or they physically can’t get out because of their mobility issue. And then the claim is closed and they have to start all over again.”
“It’s just not a safety net any more. It’s almost being used as a stick to beat people with, you know, and that support network seems to be going.”
The researchers are calling for a halt to the rollout of UC followed by a ‘radical overhaul of UC policy and practice’.