Universal Credit and it’s effect on my mental health – Part 1

Universal Credit is mentally challenging for even those of us with the strongest of minds. Add in under lying mental health issues and its a bomb waiting to go off.

A study titled: Left Behind, carried out by national foodbank charity The Trussell, found that 57% of Universal Credit claimants surveyed,suffer from some form of mental health issue as a direct result of having to wait 5 weeks or more for their first benefit payment.

I suffered some anxiety having to wait but as I took the advance I was offered the wait was not long. The advance however will come back to me with vengeance.

As I have written before I suffer from a mental health condition called Borderline Personality Disorder commonly called BPD. I also suffer from Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), which is a psychological condition that leads to physical symptoms. The most simple way to explain it is; the worse my mental health is, the worse my physical symptoms are.

I was moved onto Universal Credit late last year. I had been on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in the Support Group. This meant I was considered to ill to work.

When you are moved to Universal Credit you have to go through all the assessments and waiting periods you had to on legacy benefits like ESA. I wasn’t too worried initially as I’d recently been assessed for ESA and they’d found I was still unfit, as I have been for 8 years.

The stress begins

Not long after I had started on Universal Credit and things started to fall apart for me. The advance that I got included housing money so that instantly reduced it but as I had to attend several appointments at the Jobcentre 10 miles away, that cut into my budget too. I soon realised I was going to run out of money before the supposed five week waiting period finished.

This caused me to start to stress. Despite having two children whom I take on weekends, I have to make my single persons allowance cover us all. Their mother helps when she can but she isn’t always able to.

My boys are my first priority so I started to eat less so I could afford food for them. Ar the time it was one son with one on the way, so I had the added stress of having to buy cots and bottles and clothes for a newborn baby.

The jobcentre staff were courteous enough, but offered me little or no help. My BPD started to affect me more and I would spend days at a time in bed.

When my first payment arrived I almost went into cardiac arrest. £190 for the entire month. I was on the phone immediately and after 40 minutes of waiting I got through to someone.

They advised me that they were taking £125 per month off to recover the advance and that there was nothing they could do to help me.

I had a full blown anxiety attack partly on the phone, and then afterwards. I panicked. How will I feed my son was my only thought.


Christmas came, and this really hit me as I could not even afford to get my son any presents. The day was good and they got things from my parents but inside I felt utterly devastated.

I wasn’t eating or washing myself often ,and thoughts of self harm were becoming a daily occurrence.

PLEASE NOTE; If you have any thoughts of self harm or suicide you can call The  Samaritans 24 hours a day, seven days a week on; 116 123.

Work Capability Assessment – WCA

Next came my Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which is carried out by Atos. I attended the assessment centre as I have done countless times and went in. I’d always had a doctor assess me but this time was different. I had a physiotherapist.

She started by asking me how I got there, I explained I’d driven my adapted Motability car there as I always had. This was later used against me as a reason I am not unfit.

She then went on to ask about my health conditions. When I told her I had FND she didn’t even know what it was. I got the, “so it’s just in your mind,” comment that by now I’m used to. I explained that I can at times require 24 hour care as my condition is variable, she showed no emotion and just typed away.

Then came the questions on my mental health. She asked how my mental health affects me and it seemed she had an answer for everything.

When I explained I don’t like new places she said; “but you came here ok.” Then when she asked if I had thoughts of suicide I stated that this happens on most days.

Her reply really upset me. “Well you haven’t done it, so it’s ok.” Who did she think she is?

After telling me to stand up four times although I’m wheelchair bound that was the end of the assessment. I left and broke down into tears outside.

The next few weeks I would dramatically go downhill.

Next Time

I will leave it there as there is a lot of detail to the next part and I want each article to be readable. Also I have to be considerate to those whgo may find this upsetting.

Next time I will continue by talking about the attempt I made on my life and the anguish that Universal Credit has caused me and my family.

Remember if you ever feel you are struggling please talk to someone, as it is always better to share your problem. Professionals like The Samaritans will listen and won’t ever judge you.

Alex Tiffin

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