A Jobcentre employee forced to take a second job has revealed she struggles sympathising with people on Universal Credit as she goes through the ‘same personal issues’.
Karen, from London, has worked at the job-seeking support service in Peckham, London, for 32 years, but is also employed for 16 hours a week at a pound store.
Speaking on new three-part BBC2 documentary Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare, she said she does her best to ‘encourage and empathise’ with claimants , but suggests some of her co-workers also have to claim benefits.
In Tuesday night’s episode, she said: ‘You want to be able to succeed and do better in life, but year after year it just gets harder and harder.
‘I’m doing what society says you should do – get up every morning, go to work, be part of society, and I’m doing that and I’m still having financial issues.
‘I pay my bills and that’s it. I can’t do anything else. Even things like food, it’s so expensive. Come the end of the month, I’m eating things like beans on toast to get me through to the next payday.’
She continued: ‘You have people working delivering Universal Credit, and claiming Universal Credit.
‘You can give words of encouragement and empathise with your claimants, but a lot of the time you’re going through the same things.
‘The same issues that they have, personal issues that they have you have. What we’re all doing is living pay cheque to pay cheque.’
Karen claims she regularly has to deal with abuse from claimants and says the ‘anger’ created by the Universal Credit system is difficult to cope with.
She said: ‘Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s not directed at me, it’s directed at a system.
‘Sometimes you can understand a customer’s point of view and their community’s – but I’ve come from those communities’.
The show also focused on former NHS worker Rachel who is frantically trying to sort out her payments after leaving her job to care for her elderly parents.
The single mother who has two children thought her money worries had come to an end when she was given an advance payment of £1,300 by the Jobcentre.School on lockdown with children told to stay inside as armed police swarm area
However, she says the monthly deductions from her Universal Credit to repay the advance have pushed her further into debt.
Despite being signed off work by doctors, she has now started looking for a new job.
While waiting for her first payment, she told the camera crew: ‘By the time you’ve paid the bills and got any food shopping I don’t think we are going to have anything left.
‘I don’t expect to have a lavish lifestyle but I do expect to be able to live from week to week and month to month.’
Also among the more than 1,000 people who visit the Jobcentre in Peckham every day was Declan, who ran a pub for 20 years but has become homeless at 47.
He was supposed to receive £317 a month, however previous ‘advances’ saw him entitled to just £262 after deductions.
This left him unable to pay for electricity and relying on food banks when he secured a home.
Declan told the documentary team he sent out at least 15 applications a day to get a labouring job, but has been unemployed for eight months.
Showing the camera the park he will sleep in that night, he said: ‘How the mighty have fallen. It’s not from lack of trying to get a job. I had my CSCS card and sent out 15 applications every day, just to get a labouring job.
‘That’s even hard now. You are one pay cheque away from the gutter.’