I’ve been on a mixture of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit since I was 17 years old, due to my disability limiting my ability to work. Both are a benefit that can support people who are unable to work, or unable to work full-time hours.
I was never able to get a Saturday job like my friends due to my disabilities, nor attend university. So at a young age I quickly found myself with very few options – and a family unable to support me financially.
At that age, I had no idea that accessible work options even existed, so I truly believed that I would never find a job that I could do.
Being able to sit here today and say I have found accessible employment, that I can do whilst receiving Universal Credit, a vital safety net, is amazing. But, it’s also a double-edged sword and not the life-changing moment I’d hoped it would be.
The recent £20 a week cut to Universal Credit has really brought home to me how insecure and unstable I feel on the benefit. When I first became self-employed, it felt incredible being able to earn my own money, whilst having that extra bit of security that meant I could pay my bills.
However, as time has gone on, and with the recent cut, I’ve found myself feeling more and more anxious about finding work every month, and what I’m going to do if I’m not successful.
I am so grateful that I am able to work whilst receiving Universal Credit, but being a freelancer means there is much more pressure to find work every month.
I don’t have a guaranteed income, and so Universal Credit helps patch over the gaps for me. This recent cut however has piled on an unimaginable amount of stress and anxiety. I have no job security, so to have the only financial security I have cut so dramatically has affected me greatly.
Alongside this, I am also keen to move in with my girlfriend, but Universal Credit is means-tested against your partner’s income, meaning I would lose all that financial security overnight.
There would be no gentle adjustment period, the rug would just be pulled out from underneath me. I have to guarantee that I can earn enough money myself before doing this, a worry that I was able to manage pretty well before the cut was announced.
Now, I am so acutely aware of the pressure to find work to make up that £80 cut, even if my body is not physically up to it.
I find myself pushing beyond my physical limits on a regular basis to make sure I have enough money coming in every month.
Benefits like Universal Credit are meant to help those who can’t work full time, but the nature of being on it and the stress that accompanies it means I find myself working every day most of the time. It is not what I imagined when I first realised that there was a job that was accessible to me.
I tell people all the time that self-employment is ideal for me, and I can choose my own hours, but in reality, the anxiety of being on Universal Credit is the controlling factor, not my own abilities.
If I could choose the number of hours to work that would suit my disability, I would not earn enough to make ends meet.
It’s safe to say that even amongst all of this, I am one of the lucky ones. For those who solely rely on Universal Credit, this recent cut will be devastating.
It feels inhumane to me that the government have allowed lower-income families, disabled people, and those living in poverty to get used to the extra £80 a month for over a year, to then just suddenly pull it away.
£80 might not sound like much to some but this winter it will mean making a choice between heating their home and feeding their family for so many.
For me, it represents increased stress and worries in my life, that after having heart surgery recently, I really don’t need. I thought the benefits system was meant to catch you when you fall, not fuel your fears and increase the pressure in your life.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine that I could earn enough to come off the benefit and move in with my partner, but unless the rules on your partner’s earnings change anytime soon, I will have to keep pushing myself beyond my limits to lead the life I want.
Shona makes amazing crochet creations, please be sure to check out her shop Crochet by Shona
She can also be hired as a photographer to do portraits, live events and theatre work, check out Shona Louise Photography
Image of Shona – Fordtography
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