Posted: 16 October 2012

The big changes Universal Credit would bring for my family

My name is Jacqueline and I am a lone parent mum to a daughter aged 19 and a son of 13. My son has autistic spectrum disorder so we are the family of a child with a disability.

My daughter, a young carer, goes to university but lives at home to save costs and to support me with caring for her brother, who is non-verbal and has a range of challenges linked to his condition.

When Universal Credit is introduced my family and I stand to lose £28 per week, or £112 per month. This is a significant amount of money to any family, but especially those with a disabled child because of the inevitable additional associated costs and pressures. 

As I understand, families with disabled children (such as my family) face the biggest financial losses under Universal Credit. I am struggling to understand the reasoning behind this. 

My situation

Last year I took redundancy from my strategic management post with my city council and I am now reliant on benefits. 

Like most other formerly professional people in my situation, I want to use my skills and abilities to good effect, to provide for my small family and contribute to society, and most of all to earn a living wage. So I do voluntary work and I am developing a business when my son is at school. My son also accesses an after-school club so I can spend a reasonable amount of time on volunteering and developing the business.

All of this will hopefully lead to a steady income and mean I am making a positive contribution to society. What’s more, I am able to schedule my work around my family’s needs and have noticed that our family life has improved. 

Challenges of raising a disabled child

While it is certainly not easy for anyone to raise children, bringing up a disabled child is complex because of the inevitable additional associated costs and pressures. 

For example, there is a difficult emotional journey in developing ways to support your child, including working with a range of health, social and education services. 

There are challenges and extra costs a disabled child and their family face in day-to-day care. The facilities offering appropriate childcare here in Nottingham are across the city from our home, which means extra petrol costs. Also, a car is essential – otherwise we would be using two buses, or four if you count getting to him and getting back . 

Also, my son is a heavy boy but plays as a younger child does, by climbing and bouncing. This has meant I’ve needed to replace three beds, some floorboards, a sink and a television stand. Clothes get stained and torn and have to be frequently replaced.

Additional spending includes the many bottles of shampoo, conditioner, bathfoam and cleaners that he enjoys pouring away down the sink. Our new carpet was ruined by red emulsion paint, the ceiling has been repaired due to flooding caused by his frequent baths - he loves water.

The effects of changes to Universal Credit

What will be the outcome of the changes for us? It will probably mean an end to his trips and treats, the things we do outside the home that keep him out of mischief brought on by boredom. 

It will in all likelihood mean that I have to withdraw him from his childcare, where he enjoys his time and carries on learning – particularly social skills – in a relaxed environment. When this goes he will be kicking his heels at home and I will have to cut back on volunteering and developing my business.

This will mean in all likelihood that I will spend a longer time on benefits than I intended to do. I contemplate all of this with anxiety, as I guess every family in our circumstances would do. 

It will lead to greater strains and stresses in our family. We are resilient but I am aware that for others it is different. Children with disabilities are generally more vulnerable to abuse. Stress brought on by even more financial strain could have terrible and unforeseen consequences for some children.

What is meant to be a savings to the government may not in the long term prove to be so. Closer examination of the reality of life for families such as ours suggests that we are about to become more isolated, and our quality of life and that of our children further impaired.

By Jacqueline, a parent whose family will be affected by changes to Universal Credit

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