‘Universal credit is a nightmare – the stress is overwhelming’ | Money

Name: Jacqueline Widick
Age: 47
Income: universal credit of £732 a month
Occupation: former administrator

I’m on universal credit and it’s an absolute nightmare. I applied for it in November when my contract admin role suddenly stopped. Although I had no savings, the Department for Work and Pensions said I made enough money in November and so I didn’t receive any payment until 8 January. I fell into arrears on my rent. I couldn’t afford to buy food. I couldn’t pay for gas or electricity. Thankfully my best friend helped me, otherwise I’d have no heating or food.

I’ve recently lost tribunals for both personal independence payment and employment support allowance. I have a mobility disability because of my osteoarthritis. I also have three bulging discs, a torn cartilage on my left knee and I’ve undergone surgery to have a partial knee replacement. Despite all of these health problems – and the support of my doctor – the DWP deemed me fit to work.

The osteoarthritis in my back, hips and knees along with overstretched tendons in my left foot means I need to use a walking stick. I live half a mile from the nearest bus stop or train station. The buses in the village have reduced services to every two hours and there’s nowhere to sit when you’re waiting for a bus. Going to work every day is so painful that I’m often in tears. I’ll be so exhausted from the pain that I spend the entire weekend in bed. I won’t see anyone. The ESA assessment examiner said that I can use a wheelchair to get to and from the rail station but my doctor is against that as I’ll lose whatever mobility I do have.

The stress from it all is so overwhelming. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I’m in so much pain but I still have to apply for jobs. It was icy and snowing yesterday and I had to go for an interview. It was horrid.

I receive £732 a month through universal credit, with £400 of it going straight on my rent. Apparently I was overpaid my jobseeker’s allowance five years ago so they’re taking £75 a month from me. So I have about £235 left to pay for gas, electricity and any other bills. It’s left me suicidal. I tried killing myself in September and tried again when I found out how much I’d be receiving a month. Thankfully when I called my best friend he came over and stayed with me. People like me used to receive severe disability premiums on top of JSA but they took that away under universal credit. Now I receive about half as much as I used to.

I live in a bungalow owned by a housing association that costs £400 a month. If I’m working I have to pay this; I get no help with rent. My bills come to about £200 a month. I can’t really afford food. My friend drives me once a week to a supermarket and pays for my food bill which comes to £20. I limit how much I eat to just once or twice a day. I can’t afford days out or to go for a meal.

I’m caught in a perpetual cycle of having to do contract work because I’d lose my benefits if didn’t. The issue with universal credit or JSA is if you don’t take a temp role you get sanctioned; you lose your money for six weeks if you don’t take it. And they check everything, all the interviews and jobs applied for, and contact the agencies. My list of jobs is enormous because if don’t take a temp role I lose my benefits. Now I’m trying to find a permanent role and the potential employers question why I’ve had so many jobs – they’re worried I’ll leave.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

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