Universal Credit seekers turn to crowdfunding to meet living expenses | Money

FFaced with cuts to her Universal Credit and crippling bills, in September last year, 27-year-old Amy Cook decided to do something she had never done before to help her family: she set up a crowdfunding campaign to help improve their financial situation.

Cook, a full-time carer for her partner, Jordan, 37, who has learning difficulties, has set herself a £2,000 goal on crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. On her profile, she explained to potential donors that the family had “hit a brick wall” with a bed bug infestation followed by cuts to their Universal Credit, adding that it would be “10 times harder to survive and still less to live”.

Cook, who lives in Deptford, London, said the couple had run out of their ‘rainy day fund’ and needed a ‘helping hand to get back to an acceptable standard of living’.

This included the carpet in the house, as Jordan has grand mal epilepsy, which causes him to have seizures, and they feared the seizures could lead to a serious head injury.

“We don’t have money to live on,” says Cook, who has an eight-year-old daughter. “We approached the council and the housing association, but there was no support anywhere… As soon as the money is there, it’s gone; you are always one month behind on your bills. You pay one bill, then another comes right in. There is not enough support for people living in poverty.

She turned to GoFundMe as a last resort. “I was nervous because I’m not one to ask strangers for help, but what else can I do? The government does nothing. The couple achieved their goal, enabling them to resolve the bedbug situation, buy a new chest of drawers, a washing machine and other essentials.

Research for the Guardian by GoFundMe found a 28% increase in the number of calls mentioning Universal Credit appearing on the platform between July 2021 and January 2022 compared to the pre-pandemic period of July 2019 to January 2020.

The calls come amid rising prices for essentials such as gas and food, and after benefit cuts including the scrapping of the £20 Universal Credit hike last fall.

John Coventry, GoFundMe’s Senior International Director, says the trend for people to turn to crowdfunding to help with living expenses is unsurprising, as the website “generally offers a mirror to the society – so whatever issues people are facing, we will see that reflected in the activity on the platform.”

He adds: “It will be a difficult winter for many people and as such we expect more fundraising for basic household needs. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, but the power it gives people when communities step up to help is truly inspiring.

“There are amazing stories of kindness unfolding every day around the world and that, in turn, is making people more confident to ask for the help they need.”

Jackie*, 27, lives in Yorkshire and successfully launched a crowdfunding appeal last autumn to raise £1,000 to help pay for rent and food.

“I turned to GoFundMe because the Universal Credit amount is so low,” she says. “The stress and anxiety of not knowing each month what I’ll be able to cover for bills etc is just crazy. Having the GoFundMe is embarrassing and I’m ashamed to ask people to share it, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Jackie is far from the only one turning to crowdfunding platforms to survive. Rob Rider Hill, a 40-year-old former chef and musician, has launched a campaign to raise £350 to help defray the costs of repairing his broken iPhone and laptop screens.

Rider Hill, who has long had Covid, is unable to return to work as a chef and takes on small ad hoc administrative projects for friends. He depends on the £644 a month he receives in Universal Credit, on which he pays £370 in rent. He describes the process of arranging and receiving Universal Credit as a “nightmare”, adding that “it has been the most stressful part of the last year and a half.”

The £20 Universal Credit increase was scrapped in the autumn. Photography: Yui Mok/PA

Dependent on friends, food banks and the local community cafe, when his laptop screen broke and he couldn’t afford to fix it, he wanted to try another way to collect money. funds.

“Basically 90% of my world is my laptop because I’m in my bedroom 90% of the time,” says Rider Hill, who lives in Leyton, London. With the money that was donated, he bought a new monitor for £300 as it was too expensive to fix the screen himself and bought a refurbished iPhone. “If the pandemic had happened 10 years earlier it would have been more difficult, but now we have the infrastructure to bring things online.”

Ruth Patrick, a lecturer in social policy and social work at the University of York, says people are using crowdfunding to fill gaps in government support.

“We have a government that focuses a lot on supporting working families but ignores helping families who for whatever reason cannot work, or people with disabled parents or carers. children with disabilities or who have young children,” says Patrick. “It doesn’t surprise me that people are turning to crowdfunding.”

Still, she warns that crowdfunding is not a long-term solution. “There’s a lot of shame and stigma to that,” she says. “It’s much better to have a decent level of income to support yourself and your family. We need to return to a social security system fit for our purpose. We need to reverse the £20 cut and increase Child Benefit. »

However, with rising gas and electricity bills, the future looks bleak for many. “Millions of people will be struggling this winter,” says Patrick.

A government spokesperson says, “Universal Credit provides a vital safety net for millions of people, enabling them to support themselves and their families while progressing towards financial independence through work. It ensures fairness for both claimants and taxpayers, and the changes we have made [in December] will see nearly 2 million Universal Credit applicants who work better by around £1,000 a year on average.

* The name has been changed.

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