MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 16-May-14 15:41:10

Guest post: 'With so many families in crisis, we need to remove the stigma around benefits'

There are now more working households living in poverty than there are non-working households – 6.7 million in total. Here, Karen Holmes from Turn2us - a charity which helps people in financial need - writes about the impact this is having on families, many of whom don't know that help is available.

Karen Holmes

Benefits Specialist at Turn2us

Posted on: Fri 16-May-14 15:41:10

(26 comments )

Lead photo

"Affording the right food for my children and keeping the house warm became too much of a stretch."

Recent statistics and reports are telling us that the UK economy is showing signs of recovery, and that employment is on the rise. Whilst this news seems promising, it doesn't tally with the reality for families we talk to up and down the country.

Isaac, a father in full-time work, is a good example. He told us: “my wages simply weren't enough to support my family and we started to fall behind on our rent and bills. Affording the right food for my children and keeping the house warm became too much of a stretch.” Natalie and her partner - new parents who found that their income was falling short of covering their bills and childcare costs - have been left “constantly in debt.”

Isaac and Natalie are far from alone – the latest national figures show that, for the first time, there are now more working families living in poverty than there are non-working families – a staggering 6.7 million in total.

Part of the problem is a lack of secure employment opportunities. In our latest research, we uncovered that over half (57%) of working parents want to work more hours, but cannot get the work.

The growth in employment levels – so lauded by those keen for signs of financial recovery – is mostly being fuelled by an increase in self-employment. That might sound okay, but last week's report by the Resolution Foundation has shown that those working for themselves are, on average, earning 40% less than a typical employee, and many of those who have become self-employed in the last five years have done so through a lack of alternative options. This, along with the recent rise in zero-hours contracts which offer employees no guaranteed minimum hours of paid work, mean the job market is looking increasingly unstable.

For the millions of people living on the cliff edge of poverty, every month is a battle to survive. Just one piece of bad luck, such as job loss, family breakdown or illness, could have a serious impact on household income. Welfare benefits are a crucial safety net – one that's there to be used.


Clearly, the effects of economic improvements have yet to reach many working families. 63% told us that their financial situation has worsened in the last year, 49% say that their outgoings now outweigh their earnings.

Unsurprisingly, this is having a negative impact on their well-being, with almost half (48%) of the working parents we spoke to saying that they've cut back on food and other essentials. Nearly two-fifths (38%) are losing sleep - and almost a third (30%) report depression as a result of their situation.

So it's more important than ever that people know how to access the financial support available to them. We found that lots of people weren't aware of the welfare benefits and tax credits that they might be eligible for - 60% of all working households have not checked, or don't know how to check, whether they could claim this support.

For the millions of people living on the cliff edge of poverty, every month is a battle to survive. Just one piece of bad luck, such as job loss, family breakdown or illness, could have a serious impact on household income. Welfare benefits are a crucial safety net - one that's there to be used. We know that people can often be reluctant to turn to charities or claim benefits when times get tough – but we want to help people see past any perceived stigmas, so that families who never expected to face financial difficulty feel no shame in accessing support.

Of course this work won’t stop the root of the problem – and so much more needs to be done to prevent these families falling into poverty in the first place - but at least we have a chance to improve people’s lives in the here and now.

So, we're encouraging everyone to have a quick look at our free online Benefits Calculator, to see what they could be entitled to and how to make a claim. Even if people have checked their eligibility before, it is always worth doing so again - particularly if they've recently experienced a change in circumstances such as a decrease in income, having a baby or separating from a partner.

There's lots more information and help on our website, whether you are employed full-time or part-time, are self-employed, on a zero hours contract or on long term leave.

The impact of economic recovery may not be felt for some time, so we need to act now - our hope is that more families experiencing similar problems will use the help that they’re entitled to.

By Karen Holmes

Twitter: @turn2us_org

BreakingDad77 Fri 16-May-14 17:22:06

People on partial benefits seem to be really struggling,

But I know of someone with three kids from three fathers, (one is brother in law, who is also on benefits) on full benefits, and they out clubbing, getting massages, nails done etc.

Doobydoo Fri 16-May-14 19:16:32

I work...manager care home and am a nurse we struggle...we are not flash with dosh.We rent have 2 children 2 dogs we struggle.We can pay bills though.But feels hand to mouth and do not have money for hols etc.DP has a Masters in medical electronics and physics with distinction,I might add,! and sells things on ebay. Even a trip to cinema makes big dent.

mumof2cov Fri 16-May-14 19:27:05

benefits calculator is really handy. must admit finding the government own confusing.

Doobydoo Fri 16-May-14 19:40:10

Loathe tax credit system...pay people decent wage then there would be no need.....LIVING wage...not MINIMUM

ILoveCoreyHaim Fri 16-May-14 20:11:26

I worked from leaving school up until DD3 was born and I became a single parent. I was on IS for 5 years and wasn't looking for work as I didn't have to. When she started reception I started looking for work and realised things had dramatically changed. I couldn't get a job no matter what I done. I was on JSA and had to apply for 42 jobs per week to keep my benefits. I went on numerous courses which were very basic and imo pointless. On the off chance I rung up the company where I used to work and got my job back. I work very in child friendly hrs 7-1am 1 night but then I get 2 10-3pm shifts. This is why I didn't ring them previous as I knew I would struggle with childcare. On the late shift they basically stay with a family member on a rota. I applied for 1000s of jobs and had 3 interviews, jobs which a few hrs ago u could get with ease. The jobcentre were paying for childcare for 3dds costing over 250 a week plus travelling costs so 280 a week to do courses even the tutors were saying were pointless for me. I did gain a few vocational qualifications but that didn't help either. I am 170 per week better of working but that's because of tax credits, a benefit. So I swapped JSA at £120 a fortnight for working tax credits at £160 a fortnight and still get almost full HE and CTB. On courses I have met people who had a paper round in the 60s and have zero interest in working. The JC should concentrate on helping the people they know want to work instead of paying 1000s of £££ for people to go on courses who have no interest in working. On some courses less that 30% of the people enlisted didn't turn up and some courses were cancelled. This is just my experience of being on benefits

ILoveCoreyHaim Fri 16-May-14 20:14:48

Oops should have previewed as I'm on phone

LeftyLoony Fri 16-May-14 20:41:07

Good luck with that, Karen. Too many out there the likes of Breaking.

Dreamgirls234 Fri 16-May-14 20:48:53

I agree!
Too many people think it's a bad thing if you claim benefits especially when people have worked all their life and then fall ill and then need to claim benefits! There's a group on fb called fill my family on a budget...well some of them are like kids! So much stigma if you claim benefits or have partial benefits!
I was on benefits for a few years when my dd my small Because I'm widowed and my dd was being bullied and there wasn't so much the stigma then! I work dam hard and sometimes it feels like I'm working for nothing everything goes on bills basically and some towards my dd school fees as due to bullying state schools have failed her! There needs to be a living wage not Minuminum wage! Not fair when other counties do so much more for their people

AmberLeaf Fri 16-May-14 22:07:18

First reply is a 'benefit bingo' post. hmm

The turn2us website is really good BTW, Ive been using it and advising others to for years now.

We need a proper living wage, not min wage as it stands currently.

Dreamgirls234 Fri 16-May-14 22:14:40

amberleaf
Really agree with you the government haven't ever had to live on the min wage so wouldn't know how it feels to struggle and provide for our kids. They need to wake up and get in the real world. My dd wants to be a politician and I want her to be as she comes from a normal working family and could provide a realistic prospective on life and change things for the better

Pitmountainpony Fri 16-May-14 22:18:54

I am in the US and I think the uk provids a lot more....here all you get are food stamps...and these will restrict What you can buy....juice, ice lollies, forget it....the state will decide what kind of food you can eat. No sugar or treat like foods allowed with those stamps.
No housing benefit....you will get a small amount of cash each month...not enough for rent...but you will have to go 20 hours a week on a job finding course, even if you have small children.
People here often work two jobs to get by so I do think the uk system is a more generous one than many which is why so many move to the uk....but I do feel for families trying to get by...I still think it is one of the most generous benefit systems in the world....and I only now realise this as I see the hardship people in the us face....the safety net here is much thinner.

scaevola Sat 17-May-14 06:43:52

There are more people in work and on benefits than drawing out-of-work benefits.

Isn't this simply a reflection of their being more people in work overall?

When Labour introduced tax credits (ie the state topping up wages, so there is not the same need to pay a living wage in the first place) it overinflated prices and expectations. I doubt that getting wages and cost of living back in kilter, say to 1996 levels, is going to happen in the short term (if at all).

PartialFancy Sat 17-May-14 08:39:50

There are more people in work and on benefits than drawing out-of-work benefits.

Isn't this simply a reflection of their being more people in work overall?

No of course not. If people in work were being paid a (really quite small) sufficient amount, they wouldn't be eligible for means-tested benefits. What it's a reflection of, is the earnings available to workers.

The recession disguised a major change that was happening anyway: the UK economy has been restructuring for over a decade into an hour glass shape.

Jobs at the top for accountants and lawyers and corporate services.

Jobs at the bottom for retail staff and bus drivers and carers.

Very little in the middle. The skilled labour and middle class jobs in manufacturing and banks and HR and admin of every kind, which were the bedrock of the C20th economy, have been shipped overseas. The UK does very little of that any more.

People who would have done those jobs are now doing jobs at the bottom. They may be hard-working and highly skilled, but there are only so many jobs at the top, therefore most of the population won't get one.

This is the shape of our future. We need to accept this and get to grips with humane ways to live in this future - or return to Victorian inequality and exploitation of those at the bottom.

AmberLeaf Sat 17-May-14 12:05:10

When Labour introduced tax credits ie the state topping up wages, so there is not the same need to pay a living wage in the first place it overinflated prices and expectations. I doubt that getting wages and cost of living back in kilter, say to 1996 levels, is going to happen in the short term (if at all

It wasn't a Labour concept.

WFTC [working families tax credits] and the WTC [working tax credits] were the follow on from Family Credit [started in 1986] which was preceeded by the 'Family income supplement' which was introduced in 1971, both under Conservative governments.

Georgethesecond Sat 17-May-14 18:49:16

They may have been a follow on in principle, but it was under labour that there was an enormous increase both in amounts paid and in numbers claiming.

Viviennemary Sat 17-May-14 18:54:29

The trouble with the benefits system is that some people seem to be absolutely struggling and others seem to be doing OK. The system is far far too complicated. A flat rate would be better.

beepingbeep Sat 17-May-14 22:30:51

Childcare is too expensive. That's the main issue. It doesn't pay to work.

Also, estate agents & landlords will not take on working tenants who are in receipt of housing benefit due to stipulations laid out by mortgage companies and insurance companies. We receive child tax credit but are not allowed to claim hb. How will this work when UC is rolled in, when all elements, ie housing, TC's, etc are combined? Will we need move?

Worried

evergreenandblue Sat 17-May-14 22:58:14

I've been in the benefits system for about 15 years now, and it was a steep learning curve to find out everything I was entitled to. I lost out on thousands because I didn't understand how to complete a DLA form for years. Nowadays I'm pragmatic about claiming benefits, and I keep up with news from welfare/advice charities so I know about forthcoming changes, as well as other sources of support which are out there but not listed on calculators like the Turn2Us one (for example, the Family Fund charity, and Family Holiday Association.)

I have friends who are disabled and would probably be able to claim benefits like PIP (as they have similar or worse disabilities than me) but seem horrified by the stigma. I am not proud of claiming (and many people aren't even aware that I'm a claimant) but I'd rather do that than allow my family to suffer like they did when I was on a lower level of benefits than I should have been. My friends are having to do without so much and there is no need for it, but that is the cost of their pride I think.

HoopyViper Sun 18-May-14 09:02:03

Beebingbeep - that's a really good point about universal credit and the effect on renters. I wonder though if it might be made clear that you have to declare to you ll if you are receipt of the housing element, a bit like some families who receive a certain amount of one kind of tax credit (can't remember which, sorry) are entitled to claim fsm.

evergreen flowers to you. I don't know how anyone can scorn or feel envious of someone in yours or your friends' situation. I really empathise.

I have a relative who feels dreadfully stuck, because if she dares to have a well phase (well, better than normal) and is seen out looking healthy and enjoying herself (usually in clothes I and other friends have gifted her) she is met with a chorus of "there's nothing f*cking wrong with you, why don't you just get a job". She is then knocked back several steps in progress. There is actually nothing more she would like than to get a job and be able to keep it without feeling like she's letting everyone down all the time. It breaks my heart.

I am glad to see movement around trying to end stigma attached to benefits, though there's a lot of work as this current tory-led hate campaign has well and truly stuck the knife in.

ClairityVerity Mon 19-May-14 23:38:55

Beepingbeep: "Also, estate agents & landlords will not take on working tenants who are in receipt of housing benefit due to stipulations laid out by mortgage companies and insurance companies. "

How so? What do mortgage companies have to do with rentals, and how do insurance companies put pressure on estate agents and landlords?

ILoveCoreyHaim Mon 19-May-14 23:50:38

It pays me to work as I get help with childcare. I couldn't believe how much better off I am doing 16 hrs, I just wish I could have got a job sooner after a lengthy dressing hunt for one.

ILoveCoreyHaim Mon 19-May-14 23:51:18

*depressing

ILoveCoreyHaim Tue 20-May-14 00:03:18

The reason for some people being better of working and others not I guess is down to rent and some people topping theirs up. IDK why some people like me are much better off doing 16 hrs and others say they are worse off than on benefits. I have been wondering this since going back to work and I was assuming the difference is between a couple and a SP maybe and the rent. Most of my rent is still paid by HB which I wasn't expecting

HoopyViper Tue 20-May-14 07:28:50

Clarity I believe tenants on hb are viewed as higher risk. According to lls on other threads it can lead to invalidating insurance claims.

Wrt mortgages I am not so clear but would imagine a btl may be specific about terms. They could potentially force a ll to evict, although if the rent and mortgage are being paid I don't see the issue.

HoopyViper Tue 20-May-14 07:45:38

And yes Corey I would think rent has a lot to do with it. We'll be seeing the full impact of the bedroom tax (sorry, that name has stuck I can't remember the "proper" term) over the coming months and years, as all those who have absorbed the cost now face benefit reduction if in arrears.

merrymouse Tue 20-May-14 10:36:56

I think the term benefits can be misleading. I think most people on benefits are either working families with children or retired. In the uk there are no tax breaks for families, only benefits.

Equally high benefits societies usually have high taxes. There are people who never work, but I think the majority of benefit recipients are also tax payers.

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