Meanwhile in the real world… rent arrears and Universal Credit

For all those wondering about causes of homelessness and housing problems in Manchester, Oldham, etc…

Below is another example of fallout from government’s brilliant (not) decision to pay rent money directly to tenants rather than landlords when people claim Universal Credit. I’m working through a collection of recordings I’ve made this year with people who have benefit and rent problems. Thought I’d post this one, because it’s an example of the sort of silent fall that people in the real world continue to take while elections rumble on and online factions scream at each other:

A couple of weeks ago, I visited one of the Oldham lunchrooms which is attended people who have benefits, housing, addiction and money problems. A charity gives out a free lunch at this location every week. I go along to talk with people as they have their lunch. I’m being vague about the location and charity on this occasion, because the woman I recorded the conversation with below said that she already had problems with people in the area following her and targeting her:

“I’ve had every Tom, Dick and Harry in my flat… They’ve robbed phones, robbed money and they even took the food out of my cupboard… it’s me own fault with my head being a bit…”

This woman was small, frail-looking and cold – as in not dressed warmly enough. She’d come to see if there was a winter coat among the free clothes that the charity sometimes hands out. I took some pictures of her in a coat she found. I might pixelate and post them another time.

Anyway. This woman – let’s call her Kelly – was 49. Kelly was in trouble with rent arrears. She said that she her debt was £400 and counting. She also said that she had a letter which told her that eviction was on the cards. Her conversation was hard to follow in places. Kelly was confused, under the influence and obviously unwell. She was struggling to cope, she said, after a recent bereavement.

Kelly said that her rent situation started to become a problem when she was moved onto Universal Credit. She’s paid a lump sum of benefit money directly each month and must pay her rent out of that.

Kelly said that she was finding this level of management too hard:

“What they have done is they have changed my benefit. They put me on Universal Credit. [I’m] struggling. I got to pay the rent and I’m in arrears. They pay me every month.”

I asked Kelly why money management was difficult for her. She kept saying, “because of my bereavement… It’s my head… because of my bereavement this year…

“My rent is about £380 a month. I need to talk about a repayment plan… with my bereavement and that, my head’s all… I haven’t got children.”

The conversation was hard to follow, as I say. These conversations often are.

“Chaos” is the word often used to describe the way that lives are lived in these instances – as in people in Kelly’s situations live “chaotic” lives. Whatever. The point is that government provides a smaller and smaller buffer against fallout from that chaos. In our brave world, government insists that all anyone needs to leave chaos behind is a kick up the arse and an old-fashioned lesson in Taking Personal Responsibility. Pay people their benefit money directly and they’ll soon learn to prioritise their rent, and find work to keep afloat. Or so the logic goes.

The problem is this logic doesn’t work for everyone. Government might scream that it should, but it just doesn’t for some people. Government can scream all it likes. I know there is provision to pay rent money to landlords in cases where Universal Credit recipients can’t organise their money. I just wonder from this and other conversations how rigorously this is implemented.

There’s another problem, too – getting other people to take notice while keeping it real. Mainstream and alt media are so obsessed with elections, clicks, fantasy political narratives and each other that the realities of life on planet earth are being left behind altogether. Poverty is neither exciting, nor pretty. It’s grey. It’s hard to get the greyness across to political and media worlds which insist on extreme descriptions. I know that sounds a little vague. I’ll get back to it.

9 thoughts on “Meanwhile in the real world… rent arrears and Universal Credit

  1. Universal Credit is welfare ‘reform’ on steroids, a true symbol of our times.
    It starts from an assumption that the low-paid must be forced to work at zero hours jobs. Rather than spend their time sitting in front of the TV or getting tattoos on benefits.
    Cruelty and contempt are built into Universal Credit by design, along with potentially endless workfare. Payments can be stopped for the slightest reason, or none. People left destitute for the month, with nowhere to turn but the foodbank.
    A claimant now has virtually no rights at all, just the right to do exactly what the Jobcentre orders, … or else.
    Already we have seen debt, despair and eviction on a massive scale, and there is much more yet to come.

    • Jobcentre told me about the 35 hour a week jobsearch rule, said when I go on to UC I’ll have to do 5 hrs jobsearch per day, 7 days a week nonestop or I’ll be Sanctioned. I don’t have Internet at home apart from on phone & you can’t do jobsearch properly on a phone when you need to copy & paste all the job details & Ref numbers into your UJM Activity all the time. It’s utterly ludicrous. I can look at every new vacancy in the entire region in an hour, how can anyone do 35 hrs a week? & what about at weekends when jobcentre is shut & youre only allowed 1 hour on library computers? Fact is, no one is really doing 35 hrs, they make up their Activity & the Jobcentre Advisers don’t bother to read it all properly anyway cos they don’t have time! It’s total bullshit . IDS & Lord Freud are insane.

  2. While there is this General Election on and a coalition of ‘I’m all right, Jack’ complacency swallows the argument that Theresa May offers ‘strong leadership, it’s at least soothing for me as a veteran benefit claimant to be able to ‘gatecrash’ their party with comments such as at Corbyn won’t save people from food banks, warns Tory chief whip Gavin Williamson.

    Of course, the Camden New Journal wherein that report on the Tory chief whip’s position appears, is not as taken in by the bullshit as the BBC or Daily Mail are. So even when I move out of London, I shall still follow the CNJ coverage of political stuff, as well as your blog, Kate.

    And from the presentation talk for the Prof Guy Standing Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen book launch that I attended on Monday night, it has emerged that there are apparently 1152 different kinds of tax break for the more affluent in the UK these days.

  3. The government loves those No DSS, No Housing Beneifit etc
    signs in private landlords Adverts.
    It’s got to be the last form of blatant discrimination.
    This UC, rent to tenants rule is just a nasty ploy to get more landlords to join in and punish the poor.
    After the government purposely pays rent a month + a week in arrears straight to people with no money sense or control.

    Payments to tenants ought to be an option, as in a way its good, because at least gives the tenant some leverage as getting repairs done etc
    but not a forced thing

  4. I do not think that reports such as YouGov’s Regional voting intentions show Tory tide rising across country take into account the impact of Universal Credit [sic] on benefit claimants.

    I am reminded of the 1980’s badge statement, “If Maggie is the answer, it must have been a very sill question.”

    Meanwhile, though I am a Green Party member, I would love to see the look on Theresa May’s face in the event of an uprising by DWP ‘customers’ against those who went further than any right wing Labour government took this country — whatever the ‘alternative’ to TM’s ‘one party state’.
    Ask well-informed questions of candidates while government bodies still gather the statistics!

    I know that it’s hard at this time and have been previously made ill by the dominance of the mercenary and anonymously sourced opinion pollsters, but believe it vital that people turn out however much ‘the powers that be’ have attempted to grid us deeper into the dirt.

    I close here by pointing out that while debt is bad for mental health, Universal Credit [sic] is more a debt bondage method than an instrument of social and economic welfare: “Most or all the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work becomes invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed. They face coercion, violence, intimidation if they try to leave.”

    Alan Wheatley

  5. Anyone for Brexit/Trump is opposed to the Globalists that are responsible for Blair/Cameron/austerity/sanctions/workfare/support of IslamoNazism

  6. Pingback: Student debt dominates debate – but where’s the political sympathy for people crushed by council tax debt, DWP loans, rent arrears and sanctions debt? | Kate Belgrave

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