#KeepTheLifeline: COVID-19, insecure work and Universal Credit

In the first of this series of three blogs exploring people's experiences of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, Georgette Thomas, working with JRF’s campaigning partners, has spoken to Anwar, a Londoner and family man.

For many families, the coronavirus pandemic has brought greater instability and insecurity, disrupting work and education, and destabilising incomes. As Anwar, 38, from Tower Hamlets says: “Every pound counts in a situation like this.”

Before COVID-19 hit, Anwar was studying to gain maths and English qualifications so he could go into nursing. To pay the bills and provide for his wife and two children he drives a taxi part-time and receives Universal Credit.

“Pre COVID-19 things were going quite well,” he says. “I was getting somewhere, studying my maths and then this pandemic has blown things up. I feel like we have been set behind another five or ten years before we can get back to normal again. It just really worries me, you know.”

Life, he says, is getting harder by the day, and he sees the pandemic increasing inequalities in our society, making social security an even more essential public service: “We need our social security system more than ever right now,” says Anwar. “We need to find a way to make everyone’s life better. People are suffering – it is really hard.

“I am a taxi driver and I was studying to be a nurse. I became self-employed so I could adjust work with studying. But because of COVID-19 my college shut down, I couldn’t finish my maths or English studying. As an Uber driver my business went down, hardly any customers, working more hours. Money wasn’t coming in, I was relying on the Universal Credit completely, and after you have paid your bills and rent you don’t have much left to keep you going. But I have two children to feed. Everyone wants the best for their children.

“With Universal Credit you never know what you are going to get each month – with the wages they go up and down. We used to get a set amount but now we don’t know how much I will get. A lot of communities and families are struggling with the system. We need to change the system and ensure it works.”

How the £20 Universal Credit uplift helps

The uplift of £20 a week in Universal Credit has helped keep Anwar and his family afloat.

“The £20 is very, very important,” says Anwar. “If they take it off a family like mine, we have to decide whether we will heat our home or feed our children. We have to be really careful how we live our lives. That £20 is such a help. Every pound counts in a situation like this. We are in the middle of a crisis and no one knows how long it will take to go back to normal.”

That £20 is such a help. Every pound counts in a situation like this.
Anwar

Families in the front line

Anwar passionately wants to do the best for his family, as well as support his wider community. He is speaking out about his own circumstances as he believes families like his are being left behind and their voices aren’t heard.

“I see the suffering that people are going through,” he says. “Things need to change, and they can. That is why I speak out. I want to speak out for all of us about what our families are going through.

Things need to change, and they can. That is why I speak out.
Anwar

“I have lived in Tower Hamlets since I was 16. The council funding has been going down. Youth projects here have been closed down. I am a parent governor. Every time I go to the meetings I see how schools are struggling – like cutting music classes etc. They aren’t getting the money they need from the government. Families like us, we feel it. We are in the front line of everything.”