Universal Credit and Financial Wellbeing
An overview of the first episode of the BBC documentary series, highlighting the importance of discussing financial wellbeing. Let's Reset partner, Wagestream, helps to relieve financial stress for employees using a very clever app...
Last Tuesday, the BBC released their first documentary about the reality of living on Universal Credit. Universal Credit is the most controversial change the benefits system has seen in this generation. Universal Credit basically replaces six other benefits with a single combined monthly payment, available to those who are out of work or on a low income. Like every social policy, it has had teething problems. The programme questions whether the new system will work in the long-term.
The camera crew follows Peckham Jobcentre, where over 1,000 people walk through the doors every week. We meet the staff in Jobcenters and the claimants, alongside following behind-the-scenes policy makers.
All of the claimants we follow struggle with the new system. Payments get delayed, meaning that people are struggling to buy food towards the end of the month. And after their rent and bills are paid, they are left with extremely little to live on. Rachel worked for the NHS for 27 years, leaving her job to care for her elderly parents. We see her struggling to adjust to the Universal Credit system, having to pay back an advance she took whilst waiting for her first benefit pay-out. The high-cost of living in London and two children to support, paired with Rachel’s depression and anxiety, makes life extremely difficult. Rachel and the other claimants seem completely trapped, unable to move out of an endless cycle of financial poverty.
Karen works at the Jobcentre, an emotionally draining and frustrating role. After an eight-hour shift, she heads to a Pound-store to work her second job, stacking shelves. Despite her tireless work ethic, Karen finds herself in a financial position no better than the claimants she deals with day-to-day. The London minimum wage can barely keep up with London living. She poignantly reflects: ‘I’m doing what society says you should do. Get up every morning, go to work, be part of society...I pay my bills and that’s it, I can’t do anything else...Even the cost of food is so expensive, come the end of the month, I’m eating things like beans on toast to get me to the next pay day. And it’s not unusual....You have people delivering you Universal Credit and claiming Universal Credit...What we are all doing, is we are living from paycheck to paycheck.’
The documentary also follows claimant Declan, who after being on Universal Credit for eight months, became recently homeless. Declan is given only £262 a month, after deductions from two advances he previously took out. He has no money in the bank and has to wait nineteen days until his next payment. He later visits a food-bank in Southwark, where around 80% of visitors are on Universal Credit. The food-bank worker seems equally frustrated by the new benefit system: ‘We are not solving the problem, we are just the sticky tape.’
We also meet Phil, who has been living on benefits for the last ten years, and is nervous about how Universal Credit will affect his life. Phil’s life-coach arranges him a job cleaning trains, but he lacks incentive to work, knowing he will not receive significantly more money in this position. He enjoys working, but despairs at the bleak reality of joining the 'working poor,’ a social status he will never be able to change.
Alongside these stories, we follow senior civil servant Neil Couling, and Amber Rudd, the former Secretary of State, as they attempt to reform and implement the Universal Credit system. This is a mammoth task for Couling and his team, managing around £60 billion a year. The enormity of this undertaking makes it clear why there are hurdles and delays on the ground. However, there seems to be a huge disconnect between those in positions of policy-making, and those living the reality.
Let’s Reset are proud to partner with Wagestream, a startup founded 2018 that helps people and companies create environments of financial wellbeing. Wagestream allows employees to get instant access to their earned wages, without making any changes to the normal payroll process. Salary advances, financial tracking, education, and planning are provided to employees of companies that use Wagestream, all through an easy-to-use app.
“With 48% of people saying that money worries are a distraction at work, supporting the financial wellbeing of your workforce is not only good for your employees, it’s good for business.
Just like physical or mental wellbeing, financial wellbeing is a measure of your financial health and relationship with money.
Most of us simply want to feel a greater sense of financial security and have a bit more flexibility and control over our finances. That’s why we created Wagestream to give employees peace-of-mind that they’ll be okay when life just happens.” (Wagestream)
To find out more visit their website: https://wagestream.co.uk/
We must discuss financial wellbeing and create an open dialogue about finance in our work-cultures. We urge you to watch the documentary on Universal Credit and reflect on the undeniable connection between financial and mental wellbeing.
By Grace Proctor,
Let's Reset Content Editor.