Dream of teaching ‘punished’ by universal credit cut

Mum's universal credit is slashed after starting on school course

Thursday, 28th October 2021 — By Isabelle Stanley

Lindsey Jane Smith

Lindsey-Jane Smith with her five-year-old daughter Olivia

A MOTHER says she is being unfairly punished for studying after her universal credit was slashed by £200 a month when she started on a teaching course.

Lindsey-Jane Smith discovered the payments she relies on to feed her daughter had been cut after she began training to be a primary school teacher last month.

The Department for Work and Pensions has made the deduction because it classes Ms Smith’s student loan as income, despite the fact that it will have to be paid back.

Ms Smith, who has set up an online petition which has amassed some 7,000 signatures, said people trying to train for a new career were being penalised by a “flawed system”.

The 29-year-old added: “If I knew what hardship I was plunging us into I would never have started the course.

“I’ve had more than 50 people message me and say they’re in the same position and they’re considering quitting their courses. People should be rewarded for trying to better themselves and support themselves, not punished.

“The government wants to get everyone back into work, but having any old job won’t cut it.

For a young family ­earning minimum wage, they’ll still need universal credit, whereas if I can get my qualification then I’ll be off universal credit completely in a few years.”

Ms Smith, who grew up in Camden Square in Camden Town and then moved to Elm Village, was hit by a tragedy earlier this year when her child’s father died suddenly. She has been left as the sole provider for her five-year-old and is making do with £500 a month after her rent.

She said the cut to her benefits was “the differ­ence between what meals I can make for the week”, adding: “I’m having to buy cheaper food, which isn’t always the healthiest. It’s not being able to get my child clothes when she needs them.

“If you’re not on universal credit, understanding how it works is really confusing, but I was given more universal credit when I was working and earning money than I am now that I’m earning nothing.

“The system is so flawed. There’s the same rules for everyone and students in particular are being hard done by.”

She said: “I’d like them to re-evaluate the way they are assessing student income, and make it easier to go back into education, not penalise people by making it so financially difficult to do it.”

When Ms Smith decided to start her course she tried to research how it would affect her universal credit, but says there was no information available.

“Because of Covid you can’t just walk into a job centre – it’s heavily based online now,” she said.

“Even when someone finally rang me, he couldn’t give me the certain calculations of how my money would be worked out. He told me in June, ‘Just wait for October and you’ll see what happens’. Unless you know specifically what you’re looking for, you could never find it.”

Universal credit pay­ments will increase for almost two million work­ing families, Rishi Sunak said yesterday (Wednes­day) in a budget U-turn.

The chancellor confirmed a cut in the taper rate – the amount of universal credit that gets withdrawn for every pound a claimant earns through work – from 63p to 55p.

The £2billion-a-year change means working benefit claimants will keep 45p of every £1 they earn, instead of 37p.

But the £20-a-week cut is not being reversed, which means more than half of universal credit claimants – including those who can’t work due to illness – won’t see a penny more.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Student loans are classed as income when deciding entitlement to universal credit. We have been in touch with Miss Smith to explain.”

Link to petition here: https://www.change.org/p/th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se-coffey-mp-change-the-way-universal-credit-assess-student-income?recruiter=100118220&utm_source=share_petition&utm_campaign=share_for_starters_page&utm_medium=whatsapp&utm_content=washarecopy_31023377_en-GB%3A7&recruited_by_id=a220c960-e2e6-11e3-b9df-a7a1b04022ec

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