A Cut That Runs Deep
Our Vice Chair, Claire Higgins, explains why we need to do all we can to #KeepTheLifeline
“I already can’t afford to feed myself and am always so worried about how I will heat my home in the winter, so will just be worse. I get upset, angry and depressed.”
Those are the words of a resident living in the North East. The hard financial choices people will have to make if Universal Credit is cut are clear. Having to make the choice between buying food and keeping warm should surely have no place in the society that we seek.
£20 a week doesn’t seem like much to lots of people. But anyone working in this sector understands acutely that it can be the difference between families living with constant nagging worry or managing to just about keep their heads above water.
And scratch below the surface and I’m increasingly concerned about the impact that this cut will have. That is on the deterioration of the mental health and wellbeing of our residents which sadly we have already seen and become acutely aware of during the pandemic.
Poor mental health manifests itself in a range of ways from simply being unable to look after yourself or your children through to increased anxiety and increased anti-social behaviour in our communities.
We are seeing increases in reports of antisocial behaviour notably reports of domestic arguments, shouting and threatening behaviour, all of which impact negatively on children, neighbours and communities. It is the exact opposite of what we need if we are to build back stronger and better.
There can be no coincidence that these worrying trends correlate with the stress caused for our residents by their increased hardship and worries about making ends meet. Mind, the mental health charity, is very clear on the part played by poverty and debt in our mental health.
It’s the impact on our residents’ mental health that spurred me to get involved with the campaign to #KeepTheLifeline.
Across the country PlaceShapers members have written to their MPs demonstrating the impact of the cut on their constituents and communities.
The £20 increase was introduced by the Government in recognition that we need a decent social security system.
Cutting it, according to the Resolution Foundation, will hit the living standards of low - and middle-income Britain hard - and would cut the income of the poorest overnight by 7%.
For one in three people who use this as an in-work benefit to top up low wages, the cut risks putting them below the poverty line.
Our recent APPG into Housing and Social Mobility suggests social housing provides affordability, stability people need to secure employment. This, combined with comprehensive programmes by members to support people into sustainable employment, offers people the best chance. Taking away that security seems counterintuitive. Universal credit is an in-work benefit. This seems to being conveniently overlooked in some quarters and it is this which is very hard to understand.
At the same time a choice to keep the increase means less costs relating to the negative outcomes; in emergency support, health services and policy. The NHS estimates poor mental health carries an economic and social cost of £105 billion a year in England alone. At a time when we all recognise the strained and increased costs on the NHS, it is the wrong choice to cut something which will not decrease – and could increase - those costs.
To keep this uplift to Universal Credit means a lifeline for millions of people, allowing them to live more optimistically and be part of a build back better Britain.
We need to do all we can as a sector to show the true cost - financial, social and emotionally - of the choices that are made and press upon all MPs that they should change course and renew their commitment to a higher level of support for people who need it.
Let’s make sure we do all we can to #KeepTheLifeline.
Claire Higgins, Vice Chair, PlaceShapers and CEO, Cross Keys Homes