John Harris

Journalist & Author

‘It’s just mistake after mistake’ – stories from the universal credit catastrophe

It was introduced to simplify benefits and encourage people to work. Yet from a bungled rollout to Kafkaesque rules and the infamous six-week payment delay, universal credit has caused untold misery. John Harris meets people who have had their lives turned upside down. Photograph by Mark Pinder for the Guardian

Sue hit her lowest point at the end of 2016. Unable to buy food and behind with her rent, she phoned the finance company about the debt on her car. She and her family live in a town between Bristol and Bath, the kind of place where getting around with three children – not least to the nearest jobcentre, which is nine miles away – makes having your own transport essential. But she hadn’t met her repayments for three months.

“The lady on the line said, ‘You sound really down – are you OK?’” she recalls. “She could hear I was distressed. And I basically said: ‘No – I’m going to go upstairs and slit my wrists.’ She said: ‘Don’t do that – stay on the line. I’m going to put you through to someone you should talk to.’ It was a counsellor. And I spoke to them for nearly two hours.”

What is universal credit?

Related: Chancellor, keep a million children out of poverty. Fix universal credit | Debbie Abrahams

Related: Universal credit: the homeless charity that could lose a third of its income

Related: Food banks warn of struggle to cope this Christmas due to universal credit

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