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Blog, Campaign | 08 October 2021

Cutting the lifeline: What does it mean for women with convictions on Universal Credit?

Today, Universal Credit the benefits system supporting millions of families in the UK is being cut by £20 per week, the biggest overnight cut to social security since World War Two. Claiming benefits is an experience many women with convictions share as they work to rebuild their lives, but social security isn’t strong enough to support them as they look for work.

These stories come from Changemakers, a first-of-its-kind policy group of women with convictions driving the changes they want to see, set up by Working Chance. Together, the group is reimagining a benefits system that would support the efforts of women with convictions to rebuild their lives.

Changemakers are calling on the government to #KeepTheLifeline, to protect everyone claiming Universal Credit.

Knowing that Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week makes me feel let down by a system that was put in place to support me.



Knowing that Universal Credit payments will be cut by £20 a week make me feel extremely anxious about how I’m going to cope. I’m already struggling so much. It’s a huge detriment to my health and mental wellbeing. I’m struggling to understand how this cut can possibly be cost effective for the government when crime will increase as a result of poverty. It makes no sense.

The £20 lifeline means I can get food items that make up a healthy, balanced diet. Or I can top up my phone, allowing me to access the essential services I need. It also helps with travel expenses that I have for a number of medical requirements and treatments that are essential to my wellbeing and recovery.

I worry about what alternative steps I’ll have to take in order to survive. I want people to know that Universal Credit is a real lifeline for millions of people, many with multiple complex needs. It’s a hand up, not a hand out.


I want people to know just how far £20 can stretch, and how hard I am (and presumably hundreds of thousands of others like me are) working towards finding meaningful and sustained employment, in which I can embrace giving back to the society that has looked after me while I have been desperate and at crisis point.

Knowing that Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week makes me feel let down by a system that was put in place to support me. I budget carefully and my spending is minimal, however I am nevertheless in my overdraft by the end of each month. I operate within a constant state of personal austerity. Universal Credit claimants are mostly in poverty as it is; the £20 per week cut will leave many at crisis point and will ultimately only have a negative impact on the economy.

Presently, the system does not work for all those who need it. An ideal benefits system would consider and emulate the real cost of living, and make available to claimants the necessary financial support.


The £20 a week lifeline means I worry less about paying bills and shopping. It means I have enough money for gas and electric, not one or the other. Knowing that Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week makes me feel anxious. I worry about how I am going to cope, and the effect on my mental health.

I’m also concerned that I’ll be forced to take any available job, since that’s what the Department for Work and Pensions seems to want. There’s no understanding about my self esteem and need to work in a role that I get satisfaction from.

I want people to know how much difference £20 can make to me and my family. Ideally, the benefits system would look at the living wage and match this for Universal Credit. It would understand and take into account how difficult it is to secure a job with a convictions, and the issues we face when leaving the criminal justice system.

I want people to know that Universal Credit is a real lifeline for millions of people. It’s a hand up, not a hand out.



Universal Credit isn’t working efficiently to help people get into work. If people can’t meet their basic needs, how can they meet the expectations of employers?

The £20 lifeline means less stress. In emergencies I have it available, and it can even go towards something useful to help me get into work. For example, clothes for a job interview. Knowing it will be cut makes me feel sad and helpless. I rely on this source of financial aid and I’m already struggling enough as it is. I want to earn and support myself but financial difficulty can cause depressive moods that get in the way of that.

An ideal benefits system would prioritise mental and emotional stability for those facing poverty. People would benefit from having a higher allowance that covers the rise in food, travel and energy prices, and to help them with their day-to-day needs. It would help them get back into work.


When I was claiming Universal Credit, an extra £20 a week would have meant I could buy clothes and treats for my daughter, especially as she starts full time school this month. £20 a week could mean planning activities and getting out of the house. It’s so important to be out and about.

Knowing that benefits will be cut by £20 a week makes me feel nervous and insecure. I worry about travel costs and food prices, especially with cost of living going up. I wish people realised that every year the costs of goods and services increases, but the Universal Credit payment doesn’t account for that.

We should keep the £20 a week on a permanent basis.


We need a benefits system that recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Knowing that the lifeline will be cut makes me concerned about the people who are still claiming, and the impact it will have on their mental health.

I worry that the downsides of cutting Universal Credit by £20 a week are not being taken into consideration, and claimants’ struggles are not being heard in decision-making.


When I was claiming Universal Credit, an extra £20 a week would have meant I had more money to spend on food and more to cover essential bills, such as water rates and council tax. It would mean being £80 better off a month. Since my youngest child is not entitled to benefits of any kind, that would have really helped.

I worry about people who are living in more difficult circumstances while claiming Universal Credit. I want people on Universal Credit to know that budgeting, food banks, and looking for suitable employment can ease things a little.

An ideal benefits system would keep people out of poverty, and make people working better off.

If you want to collaborate with Changemakers, or find out more about the group, get in touch with our Policy and Research Officer, Olivia at olivia@workingchance.org or call 07985 475 493.

The Changemakers project is made possible through the kind contribution of the Lloyds Bank Foundation.