Wednesday, October 5

Universal Credit Applicants Turn to Crowdfunding to Cover Living Costs | Money


FFacing cuts to her universal credit and crippling bills, 27-year-old Amy Cook decided in September of last year to do something she’d never done before to help her family: She created a crowdfunding campaign to help ease their situation. financial.

Cook, a full-time carer for her partner, Jordan, 37, who has learning difficulties, set a goal of £2,000 on the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform. In her profile, she explained to potential donors that the family had “hit a wall” with a bed bug infestation followed by cuts in her universal credit, adding that it would be “10 times harder to survive let alone to live”.

Cook, who lives in Deptford, London, explained that the couple had exhausted their “rainy day fund” and needed “a helping hand to get back to an acceptable standard of living”.

This included carpeting the house as Jordan has grand mal epilepsy, which causes seizures, and they were concerned that the seizures could lead to a serious head injury.

“We don’t have funds to live on,” says Cook, who has an eight-year-old daughter. “We reached out to the city council and the housing association, but there was no support anywhere… The moment the money is there, she leaves; You’re always a month behind on your bills. You pay an invoice and then another comes directly. There is not enough support for people in poverty.”

He turned to GoFundMe as a last resort. “I was nervous because I’m not a person who asks strangers for help, but what else can I do? The government is doing nothing.” The couple achieved their goal, allowing them to resolve the bed bug situation, purchase a new dresser, washing machine, and other essentials.

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

The calls come against a backdrop of rising prices for essentials such as petrol and food, and after cuts to benefits, including the removal last autumn of the £20 universal credit increase.

John Coventry, the senior international director of GoFundMe, says the trend of people turning to crowdfunding for help with the costs of daily living is not surprising, as the website “generally holds up a mirror to society, for so any problem that people face we will see it reflected”. in activity on the platform.

He adds: “It will be a tough winter for many people and as such we look forward to more fundraisers for basic household needs. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, but the power it gives people when communities come together to help is truly inspiring.

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

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

“I turned to GoFundMe because the Universal Credit amount is so small,” she says. “The stress and anxiety of not knowing each month what I will be able to cover bills and so on is crazy. Having GoFundMe is embarrassing and I’m embarrassed asking people to share it, but I didn’t know what else I could do.”

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

Rider Hill, who has long-term Covid, is unable to return to work as a chef and is taking on small ad hoc administrative projects for friends. He relies on the £644 a month he receives in universal credit, of which he pays £370 rent. He describes the process of organizing and receiving universal credit as a “nightmare,” adding that “it’s been the most stressful part of the last year and a half.”

A universal credit sign on the door of a job plus center
The £20 universal credit increase was removed in the autumn. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Dependent on friends, food banks, and the local community cafe, when her laptop screen cracked and she couldn’t afford to repair it, she wanted to try a different way to fundraise.

“Basically 90% of my world is my laptop, as I’m in my room 90% of the time,” says Rider Hill, who lives in Leyton, London. With the money he donated, he bought a new monitor for £300 as it was too expensive to repair the screen 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 set things up online.”

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

“We have a government that is very focused on providing support for working families, but ignores help for families who for whatever reason can’t work, or people whose parents are disabled, or people who care for disabled children or who have children. little ones”. Patrick says. “It doesn’t surprise me that people turn to crowdfunding.”

Still, he warns that crowdfunding is not a long-term solution. “There’s a lot of shame and stigma around this,” she says. “It is much better to have a decent level of income to support yourself and your family. We need to get back to having a social security system that is fit for purpose. We need to reverse the £20 cut and increase benefits for children.”

However, with rising gas and electricity bills, the future looks bleak for many. “Millions will struggle 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 building financial independence through work. It ensures fairness for both the claimants and the taxpayer, and the changes we have made [in December] You will see almost 2 million Universal Credit applicants working on around £1,000 a year on average.”

* The name has been changed.


www.theguardian.com

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