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Universal Credit: the good, the bad and the ugly

calendar09 November 2017

Kiri Saunders's avatar Kiri Saunders

Universal Credit: the good, the bad and the ugly

It’s been all over the news recently, but what actually is Universal Credit? And why is everyone talking about it?

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people both in and out of work. It brings together what are now known as the ‘legacy benefits’, which include Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. It was designed to bring ‘fairness and simplicity’ to the welfare system and will make things smoother as people move in and out of work.     

The benefit has been in its trial stage since 2013, but now the Government has moved to increase its roll out to 50 new job centres each month from November. Here at CAP we stood alongside other organisations, such as Citizens Advice, in a call to halt the roll out to resolve the problems we’re seeing before this.

But now the roll out is going ahead, what concerns do we have?

When someone makes a claim, it takes six weeks for their first payment to appear in their bank. This long wait is built into the system, because it includes a four-week assessment period and two weeks of processing. The Government expects claimants to live off their savings for this period, or apply for advance payments, which is a loan of 50% of the anticipated monthly payment. At CAP we know that a high proportion of people we help do not have savings to fall back on; in fact, of those seeking help last year, 92% had no savings at all.

Case study: Six-week wait
CAP clients Frank and Celia had been without an income for several weeks before they approached us for help. Frank has mild learning difficulties and Celia has a range of mental health issues including depression. Whilst waiting for their Universal Credit payment they were advised by the local Jobcentre Plus to take an advance payment. Frank and Celia were afraid to do this because they didn’t think they could afford to pay it back. As a result, they’ve been living off foodbanks and relying on other families to feed them. The waiting period has caused great distress to the couple, particularly because Celia believed they would be evicted from their home.

Another problem we have seen is the high level of debt repayments deducted straight from people’s monthly Universal Credit payments. For those who receive an advance payment, it can take months to pay this back and mean living off a reduced income for a long time.

Case study: Deductions
Sally built up over £2,000 of rent arrears as each month her Universal Credit deductions meant she was unable to pay her rent in full. The lack of full payment meant that her landlord is looking to evict her. If the deductions had been less severe, she would have been able to afford her rent.

The application process is also proving to be difficult for people who are digitally excluded or without computer skills. Applications for Universal Credit are made online, but one in five CAP clients don’t have internet access either at home or on a smartphone.

Case study: Online applications
Keith and Janet were told they needed to apply for Universal Credit. As the claims are made online this was difficult because they don’t own a computer and are not computer literate. During their assessment period Janet received an email from the Jobcentre asking her to come for an interview, but she was unable to read the email and consequently didn’t go. As a result, her claim was suspended and she had to restart the application process, meaning the couple had to go even longer without an income.

There has been some positive progress – we were pleased to see the Government promise to make the Universal Credit helpline free, as it had previously cost up to 55p per minute to call. That being said, we want to see the Government take further steps in preventing the hardship that we’re still seeing across Universal Credit full service areas.

Here at CAP we want to highlight the problems we’re seeing across our network. We’re talking to MPs and other influential bodies, presenting evidence and standing alongside other organisations calling for the Government to make changes to Universal Credit. We continue to be a voice for people facing financial hardship, speaking up for those struggling to get by and we hope to see change happen.

Budget recipe binder: Ellie’s risotto con funghi e salsiccia

calendar11 October 2017

Ellie Mackenzie's avatar Ellie Mackenzie

Budget recipe binder: Ellie’s risotto con funghi e salsiccia

Hi! I’m a CAP caseworker, Italian born and bread bred (oops, getting ahead of myself!) and I’m here to talk about food.

When I was thinking about what Italian recipe I should share with you, I realised that it had to be a first course (primo = pasta or rice). So here it is: my risotto con funghi e salsiccia.

I’d love to tell you how pasta is more than just a meal to us Italians; more than sustainment or something quick to put together. Pasta is an institution (and my team at CAP HQ have heard me say this time and time again!) But I won’t get into the details of what makes it such a special thing – today we’re talking about rice!

And don’t worry, the name might sound fancy but the great thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can make my version for less than than 53p per serving.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 5 – 6
Total cost: £2.64*

Six sausages (36p – £1.19 per kg)
250g chestnut mushrooms (£1)
500g Risotto Arborio rice (£1 - £2 per kg)
One red onion, finely chopped (21p)
Olive oil (Few pence – £1.50 per 500ml)
One vegetable stock cube (5p – 50p per 10 cubes)
Dash of white wine (optional)
Grated cheese (optional)


  • First let’s prep the ingredients. When I cook pasta or rice with sausages, I always prefer to remove the casing first. I promise this is actually very easy if you use your hands, and it will make the difference! Follow this by breaking the sausages up into small pieces, and put aside.
  • Wash and chop the mushrooms, get your favourite spices out, and then prepare the vegetable stock with a litre of boiling water.
  • Now for the foundation: il soffritto. This is the first stage of most dishes, and it involves lightly frying the onion in lots of olive oil.
  • Once the onions have browned, add the sausages and white wine (if using). When the sausages begin to brown, add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add your rice and give it all a stir.
  • Now the secret to the perfect risotto is in the frequent stirring and stock-adding process. On a medium heat, add enough stock to cover your ingredients, stir, and cover. You’ll need to keep checking on your rice, stirring, and adding more stock to prevent it from burning. This, and the use of Risotto rice, is what’s going to make it creamy. Who needs to add actual cream? (By the way, no one does that. An Italian grandma somewhere misses a beat when someone adds cream to risotto).
  • The whole process should take about 25 minutes and you’ll have to judge the amount of stock needed depending on your rice.
  • When the rice is cooked, it should look lovely and creamy. Take it off the heat, stir in a bit of butter and enjoy it with parmigiano (or any type of grated cheese) if you fancy.

I’d love to know your experience if you try this recipe yourself – drop us a comment below!

*Prices from Tesco, correct at time of publishing

What could you do with £90?

calendar02 October 2017

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

What could you do with £90?

Imagine someone drowning in debt, skipping meals to feed their children, worrying about being evicted from their home, convinced there's no way out of this desperate situation.

What if you could help them get on track to becoming debt free?

What if all it took was £90?

In reality that’s all it could take. If you’re a supporter of Christians Against Poverty, you’ll have no doubt come across our latest campaign, all about Jason and his journey out of debt with the help of CAP’s Debt Relief Order bursary. If not, here’s what it’s all about.

A Debt Relief Order (DRO) is an insolvency route out of debt. It’s an ideal option for clients who have no chance of ever paying back what they owe, for the poorest people in society. When we did the maths on all of these clients currently on our books, we found it would take them an average of 618 years to repay their debts. Wow. But a DRO is a way out. It means people’s debts can be completely written off, setting them free from a life sentence of poverty.

It costs £90 to apply for a DRO, but for many clients their income is so low that they can’t afford it. That’s why we need you to step in! We’re asking you to consider donating £30, £60 or £90 to help set someone free.

Think about it: what could you buy with £90?

You could buy Mars bars for 150 of your friends (aren’t you popular?)

You could buy your morning coffee for 45 days (or thereabouts).

You could afford several trips to Nando’s, or even ninety £1 ham sandwiches, which you could use to build a Scooby Doo style sandwich tower, if you were so inclined.

You could buy all three Twilight books, all seven Harry Potter books, a copy of Hard Times by Charles Dickens, The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and What Happened by Hillary Clinton, and still have enough left over to buy a couple of Beatrix Potter classics and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for an especially eclectic reading list in 2018.

Or you could change a person’s life.

Instead of a short-lived sugar rush for your many friends, you could get a family’s debts entirely written off.

You could go without that morning coffee for less than two months and offer a lifeline to someone drowning in debt.

Eat at home instead of going out (or give the sandwich tower a miss) and you could release a person from a prison they never believed they’d escape.

You get the idea.

CAP helps hundreds of people go through a DRO every year, and we need your help to see another 500 set free by the end of the year.

Click here to donate £30, £60 or 90 (or whatever you can afford to give) and let’s unite to see 500 families become debt free in the next few weeks!

‘I thank God CAP came along to let the light in and help us get debt free.’

calendar13 September 2017

Kylie Carmichael's avatar Kylie Carmichael

‘I thank God CAP came along to let the light in and help us get debt free.’

It was dark. I remember walking about as a shadow of myself. It all started really because I didn’t know how to budget. There were so many bills gathering up and I didn’t know if what was coming in would be enough to pay what we were spending. I started borrowing from doorstep lenders and the pressure just grew and grew.

At the time I had four children, all under the age of six. My partner, Gareth, and I were skipping meals and going without to make sure the kids would have enough.

We argued about money constantly. It put such a lot of strain on our relationship. The debts sent me into depression and anxiety. I was very low, and even though I was surrounded by people, I felt alone. I didn’t talk to anyone about what was going on – I just buried my head in the sand and hoped it would go away. It wasn’t a nice place to be. I remember the sleepless nights and desperately wanting to just disappear under the covers and forget about life.

I was broken. If it wasn’t for the kids, I don’t like to think where I’d be now. I thank God that CAP came along.

I was speaking to a friend in my local church outreach centre and charity shop, and she asked if everything was alright with my finances, if I was in debt. I’d never spoken to anyone about my problems up until that point. It turned out she’d been through the same thing and had become debt free with CAP’s help.

She said they could help me too, but I was reluctant. I wasn’t a Christian at all, and every time I heard 'Christians Against Poverty' I just thought ‘How can they help me? What can they do?’

But they were the loveliest bunch of people! They came to the house and I felt so comfortable with them as they explained that loads of people go through this, but that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly it wasn’t so stressful.

They told me we wouldn’t lose our house. And there was the reassurance of having someone there if we needed anything. It was such a weight lifted off our shoulders. It eventually became clear that insolvency was the best solution for us, and CAP guided us through the process.

I didn’t think I was good enough to walk with God, but gradually I learned that nobody is better than anyone else and that God accepts everyone if they just choose to let him in. I welcomed him into my life and it’s never been the same!

Our family was invited to go away for a few days on a Discovery Break. Gareth wasn’t a Christian and he was really unsure at first, but at one of the workshops he broke down – there and then he asked God into his heart! It was honestly the happiest day of my life. Being debt free is a bonus!

Nowadays I can manage our budget, I walk about with a smile from ear to ear and my family is so much happier and more settled. I thank God CAP came along to let the light in and help us get debt free.

My advice to anyone else going through what I went through is this: talk about it. Don’t close the door and think that there’s no help out there – there is big help out there!

Kylie is a mum of four from Northern Ireland, whose struggles with mental ill-health and debt are captured in this year’s CAP Sunday film, Still. Click here to watch the full film and to find out more about hosting a CAP Sunday in your church.

You can be heroes!

calendar17 August 2017

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

You can be heroes!

It’s superhero week at Christians Against Poverty and the team here at CAP HQ are getting into the spirit of things, dressing up and celebrating all that’s done to rescue people in debt, here in the UK.

If you’re a CAP Life Changer you’ve probably already received a superhero thank you card from Steph, James, and their daughter Isabella from Leeds, a family helped because of your giving.

Steph writes that if it wasn’t for CAP, she’d still be in the same dark place. After she lost her job, she was going to be evicted from her house. It was hard to deal with because she felt guilty about her debt. But support from CAP has saved her life and made a sad home into a happy home.

There are a lot of ways in which CAP is actually changing and saving the lives of people struggling with a wide range of issues. In many ways, coping with all that life throws at them, they are superheroes too.

One client, Catherine* suffers with anxiety and panic attacks, depression, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel and hypoglycemia and all of this adds to her financial struggles.

Sometimes existing problems are made worse by money troubles. Allan* and Sandra* were having a hard time suffering with mental health, fear and anxiety. They felt bullied by debt collectors knocking on their door and have been feeling too scared to open the curtains.

So, the extra face to face support given by each debt centre is so very valuable, tackling that isolation and providing a solution.

Over on CAP’s Facebook page, we asked people to name their CAP superheroes.

‪Joyce Bloomfield wrote,‪ ‘I cannot pick ONE… My befriender Margaret Woffendin and debt centre manager Sarah Cutts, release coach Sally Martin and two special people who prayed and listened who have moved on – Rose Young and Gillian Fernyhough.’

Carol Anne Wastell‪ wrote, ‘I must say Julie Parker is the best. She will walk to the end of the earth with you. She is amazing. She was there for me and helped me though everything. Even when I was at my lowest, she brought me back alive again and gave me hope. I will never ever be able to repay her.’

The team effort everyone makes for CAP results in a genuine difference in thousands of lives. If you’d like to join CAP’s superhero team, it’s easy! You could challenge yourself to a sponsored event, make a regular donation, or see if you’re the right fit for one of our current job vacancies.

*Names have been changed to protect clients’ identities

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