Universal Credit: 'Desperate' claimants are crowdfunding to meet basic needs

A growing number of Universal Credit claimants are resorting to crowdfunding just to make ends meet.

More than 800 campaigns linked to the controversial benefit system have been set up on crowdfunding site GoFundMe in the past year - a five-fold rise from the year before.

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Poverty charity Turn2us said the situation was “really quite shocking”.

With Universal Credit blamed by some for a rise in food handouts by charities, the site has also seen an increasing number of cash appeals for food banks.

'A sign of desperation'

One Universal Credit claimant from London, Floyd, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, began a crowdfunding campaign after finding himself without heating or electricity.

After not getting benefits payments, he said, his unpaid bills had started to rack up.

“I was basically in darkness,” he said.

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“I thought I had to do something to get out of this situation.”

Floyd, 53, said the situation had left him anxious and depressed but he still started his fundraiser with “extreme reluctance”.

Floyd said crowdfunding was not a long term solution for people in his position. Image: Shutterstock

“I saw other people do it and I wasn’t against them doing it but I realised it meant going public with the situation, which was a sign of desperation,” he said.

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He raised about £500 of a £700 target, with some donations coming from total strangers.

“I was very grateful to everyone who gave a contribution,” he said.

But Floyd said as the money was paid in instalments, he still found himself living “hand to mouth”, and he said he didn’t think crowdfunding was a long-term solution for people in his position.

Thousands of pounds raised

Data shared exclusively with the JPIMedia Data Unit by GoFundMe reveals more than 1,100 crowdfunding campaigns have mentioned Universal Credit since 2013.

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They received more than 6,000 donations, raising at least £250,000, according to the website.

As many of the campaigns are no longer live, JPIMedia Data cannot say in what context Universal Credit was mentioned in the appeals or that all campaigns were set up by genuine claimants.

More than £500,000 has also been donated to campaigns mentioning food banks, although the data will include any appeals for pet food banks or overseas food banks.

The area with the highest number of crowdfunding campaigns was Birmingham, with 39, followed by Glasgow, with 32.

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While the overall number of fundraisers set up on GoFundMe has risen by some 38% in the past year, the number mentioning Universal Credit has grown far more rapidly, which the site attributed partly to the benefit’s continuing roll-out.

There are currently around 2.5 million people now on Universal Credit in the UK.

Sara Willcocks, of poverty charity Turn2us, said: “Our social security system was created in the 20th century to stop people from going hungry and having to rely on the generosity of strangers for help.

"Needless to say, the scale of people in a 21st century society having to resort to crowdfunding so they can survive day to day is really quite shocking.”

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A spokesperson for GoFundMe added: "The powerful thing about tools such as GoFundMe is people adapt them to the needs they have.

"We hope one day that people will not need to crowdfund to be able to meet basic needs. Until then, our tools are here for people to give and get help when people are in need."

‘Immediate support is available’

The Department for Work and Pensions said people on Universal Credit can get paid urgently if they need it.

A spokesperson said: “Universal Credit provides a vital safety net for people who are out of work or on low wages with more than 2.5 million people supported by it.

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“It’s a better, simpler system that will see 700,000 families get on average £285 more a month than under the previous one.

“And as we’ve rolled it out, we’ve made improvements such as increasing advances to 100%, removing the seven day waiting period and continuing Housing Benefit for the first two weeks.”

The Conservative Party said that the number of campaigns represented a tiny fraction of people on Universal Credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions said people can get paid urgently if they need it. Image: Shutterstock

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They also said GoFundMe’s data included campaigns which supported overseas projects, pet food banks and sponsored sporting activities.

A party spokesman said: “Conservatives provide a safety net for the most vulnerable, as well as supporting people to earn more through work.

“We urge anyone experiencing financial difficulties to access a Jobcentre, where immediate support is available. Universal Credit will be £2bn more generous than the system it replaces.

“However, some of these Go Fund Me campaigns originally presented to us bear no relevance to support that families need.”

'Broken beyond repair'

Labour has pledged to scrap Universal Credit entirely.

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Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Margaret Greenwood, said: “It is shocking that Universal Credit is forcing people to turn to crowdfunding to meet essential living costs.

“Universal Credit was meant to lift people out of poverty, but instead it is leaving people waiting five weeks or more for a first payment, pushing many into debt and in some cases putting people at risk of destitution.”

The Conservatives said anyone experiencing financial problems should contact the Jobcentre. Image: Shutterstock

The Liberal Democrats have said they would put more investment into the Universal Credit system.

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Its spokesperson for Work and Pensions, Tim Farron, said: “It is frankly appalling that people are struggling to such an extent that they are having to crowdfund.

“Universal Credit was supposed to make people’s lives easier.”

Kirsty Blackman of the SNP added: "Any political system that strips dignity away from working families to the point they are forced to crowdfund or visit a food bank for their next meal is broken beyond repair."