A single mum living in Morecambe says her experience with Universal Credit has left her “flat on her face”, in more debt, and taking medication to cope with anxiety and depression.
Kate Reilly, 35, says that the controversial new benefits system, introduced in 2016, has made juggling bringing up her three-year-old daughter and trying to get into work “impossible”.
She said: “I would like to go back to work, there’s nothing better than going to work and having your own money.
“But my daughter has to come first and I can’t keep changing things about.
“I can’t do both.”
Kate says she now faces sanctions from the Job Centre, because of a situation where she’s being asked to find a job, but can’t afford to pay childcare costs up front.
The Department for Work and Pensions says working parents can claim back up to 85 per cent of eligible childcare costs, and if someone has accepted an offer of paid work, they are eligible to be paid these costs for the month prior to starting work.
But Kate says her reality has been very different.
“They asked me to go into the Job Centre to find a job and I got a job at McDonalds,” she said.
“The nursery my daughter attends asks for childcare costs to be paid a month in advance, which is fair enough, but I can’t do that.
“I found a childminder who would do it in arrears, but the change really upset my daughter, and in the end it just broke me because it was still going to leave me out of pocket the next month. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t manage the expectations, and I was so worried about my daughter. It broke my heart when she said ‘thanks mummy’ for taking her back to the nursery.”
Kate left the job after two days, and visited her GP, who has declared her unfit to work and prescribed her anti-depressants. She says the childminder still hasn’t been paid for the two days.
“I don’t get 30 hours free childcare until the term after she turns three, which would be in January. My daughter was born in October so she’ll be five when she starts school.
“I feel really alone, I don’t know what to do.
“It’s made me poorly. They’ve put so much pressure on me and now they’re saying they may have to sanction me.”
Kate says she gets £520 a month to live on, not including rent, with £150 taken out to pay debts like council tax arrears.
“I end up with £370 a month for bills, food, clothing, travel and everything else,” she said.
“I always end up owing someone. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, it’s around £6,000, even more since I’ve been on Universal Credit. My council tax debt is £2,000 alone.”
Prior to the birth of her daughter Kate said she worked 70 hours a week as a carer.
“I’ve ended up flat on my face emotionally,” she said.
“They pay me four weeks money over a month, which is sometimes five weeks.
“I’m really struggling to make it work.
“I would like to go back to work, and when my daughter goes to school it will be easier because there are after school clubs, but I don’t know what I’d do in the half terms.
“I have no family locally. My parents are dead and my brothers and sisters live in West Yorkshire. It just seems like they’re trying to back me into a corner.”
Kate says she worries about being homeless, and has used the foodbank several times.
She is now waiting to hear back from the Job Centre about the sanctions.
A spokesman for the DWP said they had paid Kate for all the childcare costs that she has requested so far, and that the new system provided the “highest level of support ever” in terms of help with childcare.