Josh has experienced depression and anxiety for several years. Recently he has had to apply for Universal Credit. Josh shares his experiences of the process and why he thinks the system is not supportive of people with mental health problems.
I used to work on the railways, but I had a stroke a few years ago and lost 20 per cent of my brain functionality. I’ve become deaf in one ear and partially blind so I can’t work anymore. All of a sudden they stopped my Employment Support Allowance and I received one of those ominous letters about it. I hate them. I can’t explain how they make you feel when they arrive through the door. There was no advice about what I needed to do or where else I could apply for financial support.
"There was no advice about what I needed to do or where else I could apply for financial support."
The application form is so stressful. I found it really difficult to navigate so I went to the jobcentre and thankfully they helped me. Since my stroke, using a computer has become really difficult. If I hadn’t had any of that help then I would have definitely been sanctioned and had my benefits stopped altogether. There isn’t enough support out there for people, which is why so many people, especially people with mental health problems, are seeing their benefits stop.
It didn’t get any easier when my application form was accepted though. It was really tough. I had to wait for around seven weeks to receive my first payment. You can apply for a loan, from the DWP, while they analyse your benefits, but then when you finally get your payment through, (which is less money anyway) then it’s deducted from your first payment and it gets you in more trouble. I don’t know why they make you wait so long. On Universal Credit, I had to use a food bank for the first time. Its 2019, it’s just wrong.
"On Universal Credit, I had to use a food bank for the first time. Its 2019, it’s just wrong."
The whole situation really messed up my housing rent too – because the council took so long to sort my initial payment it meant that I couldn’t pay my rent on time. My landlord has been fairly understanding compared to some of the horror stories I hear. Still, those big red letters warning you are scary, especially when you then get a visit from the landlord. It’s a constant worry, but the only reason I can’t pay is because of a system error.
Mentally this process has completely ruined my wellbeing. I had no money for weeks and weeks. My priority is to keep a roof over my head. I’ve been homeless before when I first got out of the stroke unit, as where I lived was unavailable to rent anymore, so I had to stay in a hostel. I don’t know what that would do if it happened again.
I’ve had to make £100 last more than a month, so I haven’t been eating and have had to resort to shoplifting, something I never wanted to or thought I would do. When you’ve got nothing, you literally have no choice. Everyone at the food bank does a great job, and they really do care, but so many people need to use foodbanks under Universal Credit that the food they have doesn’t go very far at all. The whole situation is very dehumanising and if you’re not able to survive then you get tossed aside, forgotten about and left with nothing.
"People need caring support, so that when people receive support they want to and feel able to integrate back into their community and are motivated to give something back."
People need caring support, so that when people receive support they want to and feel able to integrate back into their community and are motivated to give something back
I realise one reason for this system is to get people back into work – which is a good thing – but for hundreds of people they just can’t work because they are too unwell. This is why through the help of Mind I appealed my PIP and ESA decision. Thankfully my appeal was successful, at least I know a little more money has come in and I can start to rebuild my life. But the whole process has made me really deteriorate mentally.
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