More people on Universal Credit turn to begging online just to get by

Hundreds of Universal Credit claimants have launched online crowdfunding appeals to make ends meet.
Hundreds of Universal Credit claimants have launched online crowdfunding appeals to make ends meet.

A growing number of Universal Credit claimants are begging for money online.

More than 800 campaigns linked to the controversial benefit have been set up on crowdfunding site GoFundMe in the past year.

That’s a five-fold rise from the year before.

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.

One Universal Credit claimant, 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. “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”.

“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.

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,” said Floyd, but he didn’t think crowdfunding was a long-term solution for people in his position.

Data shared exclusively with the JPIMedia Data unit by GoFundMe reveals more than 1100 crowdfunding campaigns have mentioned Universal Credit since 2013.

They received more than 6000 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 the benefit was mentioned in the appeals.

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.

In Scotland, there have been 164 online crowdfunding campaigns, 54 mentioning food banks and 110 in relation to Universal Credit.

The majority of online appeals in Scotland have been made by people living in the west of the country, but there are a number from almost every local authority area.

While the overall number of fundraisers set up on GoFundMe has risen by some 38 per cent 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.”

A spokesman 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.”

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

A spokesman 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.

“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 per cent, 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. 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.”

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminister in the last parliament, said the Universal Credit system was fundamentally flawed.

She 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.”

Labour has pledged to scrap Universal Credit entirely.

Margaret Greenwood, who was Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 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.”

And Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats spokesman for Work and Pensions, 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.”