Charities are warning that ending the Universal Credit increase is likely to have “devastating consequences” for people’s mental health, leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
The £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, introduced to help people on low incomes weather the financial impact of the pandemic, ended on October 6. According to think-tank the Resolution Foundation this is the single largest cut to benefits ever, which comes amid a cost of living crisis, and soaring energy bills this winter.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) warns that the cut could have serious implications for the mental health of the most vulnerable members of society at an extremely difficult time.
Julia Faulconbridge, from the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology, said: “This week’s decision by the government to cut Universal Credit by £20-a-week will have devastating consequences for people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“Poverty is one of the major risk-factors for the development of physical and mental health problems and we know that children growing up in poverty are three-to-four times more likely to develop mental health problems, so this decision is a huge blow to the families that rely on this income.”
Before the cut, more than half (59%) of debt charity StepChange’s clients who rely on Universal Credit had more income than outgoings each month.
However, Richard Lane, director of external affairs at StepChange, said: “Now, just 28% will have enough to make ends meet, leading to agonising choices between paying the rent or feeding their families, skipping meals, or turning to high-cost credit just to get by. These daily battles to get by will inevitably cause or exacerbate mental health issues.”
Only around one in four people, or 28%, receiving support from benefits say they feel hopeful about the future, according to a survey by mental health charity Mind.
Paul Spencer, policy and campaigns manager at charity Mind, said: “The £20 isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity for people to be able to afford the bare essentials, after a year of many financial shocks. To make matters worse, this cut coincides with sharp increases to the cost of living.”
The Universal Credit uplift was introduced as a temporary measure to help people on low incomes and eligible for the benefit through the pandemic. Read more in our guide Everything you need to know about Universal Credit. However, its removal has prompted a surge of criticism from charities, MPs, unions and think tanks.
Around a third of people on Universal Credit will end up in debt when their increased payment ends, according to charity Citizens Advice. It says the average shortfall in monthly payments will amount to between £51 and £55 a month.
Where to seek support
Worrying about making ends meet can take a serious toll on your mental health. Read our advice on how to manage and the wide range of free support services available in Are money worries affecting your mental health?
There are also organisations and charities that can help you find out about any benefits you may be entitled to, such as Turn2us, which offers a benefits calculator. The website Entitledto.co.uk also has a free calculator to help you check which benefits you might qualify for.
Have you been affected by the cut to Universal Credit, mental health issues caused by financial worries, or both? Have you found any particular coping strategies that you’d like to share? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less Community forum, or leave a comment below.