ON Christmas morning instead of opening presents with her two sons Wanda Kosta will be wrapping up in an extra cardigan to keep warm because Universal Credit means she can’t afford to have the heating on.
The 44-year-old, who lives in Kelty, Scotland, doesn’t have enough to cover her bills let alone buy presents for her sons Bradley, 10, and Sean, 18.
The weather in Fife is set to plummet to 3 degrees on Christmas morning but Wanda has to limit turning on her gas for two hours in the evening to help dry clothes for her family.
“We won’t be able to put the heating on on Christmas Day any more than normal because I already don’t know how I’m going to pay for it anyway,” she told The Sun.
“We’ll just have to put extra layers on and keep moving around to make sure that we don’t get cold.”
She is one of the thousands of families struggling to live, because of Universal Credit.
Wanda has only been able to afford one present for her son and her tree and decorations were donated by a neighbour[/caption]
This week we are highlighting the suffering of people like Wanda in our Make Universal Credit Work Campaign.
When her next gas and electric bill comes in for £145 she’s worried she won’t have enough cash to pay it.
“I’m absolutely dreading it to be honest,” Wanda said. “I don’t have any savings to rely on so I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it.
“But I can’t focus on next month too much because it’s so far away and we live from day to day.
“If I don’t put on a happy face now, then my kids will see that something is wrong and they don’t need that sort of worry at Christmas.”
Wanda has only been able to afford one present for her youngest son. The family is relying on a care package from single-parent charity Gingerbread to put food on the table over the festive season.
I feel like I’m failing my family by going to food banks
The box includes long-life milk and pasta sauces, as well as a £30 supermarket food voucher to spend on Christmas dinner.
Their Christmas tree and decorations were donated to them by a neighbour.
“Having to turn to food banks and charity handouts to feed my family makes me feel constantly degraded,” Wanda added.
“It makes me depressed and like I’m failing my family.
Are you on Universal Credit? Tell us your story! Email: Universalcredit@the-sun.co.uk and join our Universal Credit Facebook group.
“The packages also included a couple of gifts for the boys thank God, because without it they would wake up on Christmas morning with nothing under the tree.
“I can’t afford to pay the bills, let alone buy them any gifts.”
Wanda is unable to work as she’s a full-time carer for her youngest son Bradley, who suffers from learning disabilities, severe anxiety and ADHD.
While he does go to school, he’s often unable to attend due to his anxiety and needs frequent trips to the hospital for appointments.
“Bradley needs constant prompts for day to day things like getting dressed and washed,” says Wanda.
“His problems are very complicated and he’s very vulnerable. He struggles to build new relationships with friends at school.
“A psychologist report says he needs support both in school and the community as the results put him within the learning disability range.
“He’s my hero and he always will be my hero. He’s very brave.
“He has been through so much and he still has a smile on his face, so I have no intention of not smiling not matter what.”
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work
Universal Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment.
One million people are already receiving it and by the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7 million will be on it.
But there are big problems with the flagship new system – it takes 5 weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.
And while working families can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to 6 months for the money.
Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.
It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the government to:
- Get paid faster: The government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
- Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
- Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.
Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.
Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email UniversalCredit@the-sun.co.uk to share your story.
Wanda has no extended family to rely on to help her plug the cash gap.
Her younger brother died in 2004 of a heroine overdose and she lost her older brother four years later in car crash.
While her mum, who lives in 50 miles away in St Andrews, hasn’t got any spare cash either.
This is the second Christmas that she’s had to rely on a charity care package for Christmas, but this year they are even more strapped for cash after rolling onto Universal Credit.
She’s been to a food bank three times – the maximum amount she can visit – this year.
She adds: “Without the care package we’d have nothing. We wouldn’t be able to heat our home or feed ourselves.
“Every day we scrimp and scrape to make it through – I lie in bed every night sick with worry about how I’m going to pay for the next day.
“We don’t have any extended family we can rely on for any extra cash. What we get from Universal Credits is everything and it’s not enough.”
Wanda is not alone. Contact a charity for families with disabled children says that 100,000 families with disabled children will be worst off by more than £1,750 a year, due to the disability cuts under Universal Credit.
“We want the government to reverse this as a matter of urgency,” Una Summerson head of campaigns at Contact told The Sun.
“We’ve found families with disabled children are struggling to afford essentials like food and heating and their finances are precariously balanced.
“These are some of the most vulnerable families in our society – and the very ones that our social security system should be supporting and protecting this Christmas.”
We are £130 short every month – I feel sick with anxiety all the time
On the old benefits system, Wanda was entitled to claim £927 a month but now she’s left with £312 a month to pay all her bills and buy food.
Although she’s entitled to £1,070 Universal Credit, £319 goes to the council for rent, £280 is taken off to cover the Carer’s Allowance and a further £128 is taken to pay back two advance loans.
She’s also hit with a £32 a month penalty for being in rent arrears and has asked for her rent to be paid directly to her landlord so she doesn’t get behind anymore.
She has no cash left over if she pays all of her £450 bills each month, in fact, she’d be £130 down.
That means she’s unable to keep up with payments and is worried about how she will support the family in the New Year.
“I now get letters in the post telling me how much I owe the council for rent but I just don’t have the cash,” she said.
“It makes me feel sick with anxiety all the time. I don’t know whether we’ll even have a roof over our heads in the New Year.”
Latest from Make Universal Credit Work
A spokesperson from the DWP said: “We have apologised to Ms Kotska for the delay in setting up the direct rent payment to her landlord. This is now in place and we are supporting her arrears repayments.
“Monthly Universal Credit statements clearly set out the amounts being paid to claimants each assessment period.”
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:
Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it’s a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit pay out.
Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you’re falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you’re part of a couple.
Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the government to help with emergency household costs of up to £348 if you’re single, £464 if you’re part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You’ll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You’ll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren’t enough to cover your rent.
Foodbanks – If you’re really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.