Sharing my experience of accessing Universal Credit with an MP

In this blog Amy, a Young Women’s Advisory Panel member, shares what happened when she met Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Work and Pensions.  

On Wednesday 12 January, I met Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, to share with her my experience of accessing and living on benefits. Wendy is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Work and Pensions, we wanted to speak to her to ensure that the voices of young women are heard and will help to influence decision making.

Sharing my story with Wendy

In 2017, I was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. This causes my joints to dislocate and the deterioration of my health meant that I could no longer manage my very active job as a healthcare support worker. This meant I had to claim Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment, while I searched for employment that could accommodate my needs. Unfortunately, finding a job was not as easy as I had hoped despite my qualifications and years of experience in healthcare. I am still claiming these benefits to this day, as I have not found suitable employment and have instead returned to study.

I shared this story with Wendy and she listened to the problems I had experienced with the lack of flexibility and opportunities for disabled and ill people wanting to return to work. She agreed that this is something that the government needs to address. I also shared examples of how the Universal Credit cuts had affected me personally and she agreed that the £20-a-week uplift that was removed last autumn should be reinstated.

We also spent time discussing the fact that although I am single, if I were to find a partner my benefits would be taken away and my partner would be expected to support me financially. I shared my view that because of this, the current system works in favour of abusers and not victims. Aside from the possibility of financial abuse, someone in a physically or emotionally abusive situation would not have easy access to resources allowing them to leave. As rates of abuse are higher in disabled people, and even more so for disabled women, Wendy agreed that this needs to change.

Difficulty navigating the benefits system

I wanted to make sure that Wendy heard about different young women’s experiences. So, we also read her a statement from another young woman who is a carer.

This young woman had found the benefits system incredibly difficult to understand and she found she had to use many different sources to find out what benefits she was entitled to. She suggested that there should be a single point of contact where people can find out what help they can get. Wendy agreed with this and added that a lot of individuals become discouraged and end up not receiving what they are entitled to with the current system.

We also took time to share some of the findings from the latest Young Women’s Trust report, One Size Fits Noone. The report found that

  • Less than one third of young women feel that the benefits system is easy to navigate
  • Over half of the young women felt that the benefits they receive do not allow them to live comfortably, for disabled women this figure rises to 63%.

Wendy assured us that she wholeheartedly agreed with the points we made and promised that she would raise these in her role as Spokesperson for Work and Pensions.

All too often, the voices of young women go unheard. But Young Women’s Trust is determined to change that. We give MPs the opportunity to hear directly from young women. When MPs understand the barriers young women face, they become even more determined to remove them. Alongside young women, like Amy, we will continue to meet with MPs and fight for change.

Jess, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Young Women’s Trust  

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