A disabled woman who fled a violent relationship says she was left without any income after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to ease demands placed on her by its “abusive” universal credit system, and then stopped her payments.
DWP has closed Chantelle Greene’s* claim after she said she was being “pushed towards the edge” by the universal credit system and asked for her work coach to ease the demands being made.
She finally escaped a 20-year relationship with an abusive partner earlier this year when she fled to a different part of the country and changed her name.
But she now feels she became “embroiled” in another “abusive” and violent relationship, this time with DWP and universal credit.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a disabled woman left traumatised by the daily demands of universal credit took her own life just four days after being told she would need to attend a face-to-face meeting with a work coach.
It also told how disabled activists who have spent years raising concerns about universal credit have warned of its cruelty and how the system “hounds” claimants into complying with strict rules.
DNS also reported last week on two other disabled people who have been left in despair by the system.
This week, DNS has heard from two more claimants who say they have been treated appallingly by the universal credit (UC) system.
One of those is Chantelle Green.
In the months before she managed to escape her abusive partner, she started a new universal credit claim, but she said the process proved “extremely distressing and traumatic”.
The first adviser she spoke to, in July 2021, promised DWP would not bother her for six months while she was escaping her partner and moving to a new home.
But the next adviser she spoke to, early this year, said his colleague should “under no circumstances” have made that promise, and then passed her case to another work coach who was “good with mental health”.
But instead of supporting her through the trauma of escaping her abusive ex and starting afresh in a new part of the country, UC became a process of “coercion and limitless, mind-crushing pressure”, Green said.
DWP began to make regular “friendly” calls, which she felt were aimed at rushing her back into work, even though she was claiming UC because of the significant mental distress caused by the years of abuse and stalking she had experienced at the hands of her ex.
Instead of understanding the distress she experiences when visiting noisy and busy places full of men, Green was told she would have to attend face-to-face appointments with a male work coach.
She claims the work coach also pressured her to prepare for low-paying jobs, rather than allowing her to recover her health in preparation for reopening the business she previously ran.
She says she was unable to manage the pressure and constant demands of keeping up-to-date with her UC journal, which was helping to push her “towards the edge”.
Green says she was threatened with sanctions if she did not commit to a “claimant commitment” and its list of “completely unattainable things” she must achieve.
The pressure imposed by the universal credit journal and the threat of the claimant commitment caused her mental health to spiral downwards, until last month she had to seek crisis help in her local accident and emergency department.
Green told DNS that she sees universal credit as a version of her ex, a “financially abusive, controlling and coercive entity who refuses to allow me to be my own legitimate self”.
She said: “I don’t know what to do. How can I sign a commitment I know I will fail? I’m in a ‘sanctioned if I do, sanctioned if I don’t’ situation.
“How can I not set myself up for being starved with no income? I despair at the cruelty.”
She has now been told that her universal credit claim has been closed, leaving her with just £100, enough to buy food for herself and her dog for the rest of the month.
DWP declined to explain how it justified its treatment of Chantelle Green, whether it would take steps to make universal credit safer for disabled people, and whether it would now ensure that it made reasonable adjustments for universal credit claimants.
But a DWP spokesperson said: “We deliver a supportive and compassionate service supporting millions of people a year on universal credit and our priority is they get the financial support to which they are entitled as soon as possible.”
DWP also claimed that no work search requirements had been placed upon Green during her claim.
It said her case had been referred for a mandatory reconsideration, and if the decision was made to re-open her claim, any payments owed would be issued to her.
The Labour party had not responded to the concerns about universal credit by noon today (Thursday).
*Not her real name
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