Turn2us hosts All-Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit and gender

MPs heard directly about the impact of Universal Credit from women involved in community programmes in Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Manchester.



On Tuesday 6 February, Turn2us hosted an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting on Universal Credit and gender. An APPG is an informal meeting of Members of Parliament (MPs) from all parties that meet to discuss specific topics with experts and stakeholders from the charity sector and academia. The aim of the meeting was for MPs to better understand the impact of Universal Credit on women. Whilst no legislation comes out of an APPG, they are an opportunity for MPs to hear from people with lived experience and understand the impact of policy on people’s lives.  

The meeting was chaired by Debbie Abrahams, MP, and heard from Fran Bennett, an expert in UK social policy and co-author of Couples Navigating Care and Universal Credit. A significant proportion of the meeting was dedicated to listening to women in receipt of Universal Credit who are involved in community programmes in Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Manchester. 

In Middlesbrough, Turn2us works with local partners, Ubuntu Multi-Cultural Centre and Creative Minds Middlesbrough as part of a project with Buttle UK and the Smallwood Trust. Ubuntu serves as a safe space for the community, where anyone can receive support in a non-judgmental way. Creative Minds helps women build networks of support that promote belonging and reduce the negative impact of isolation, language barriers and financial hardship. Community Savers is a network of place-based and women-led community groups which bring communities together to share ideas and strategies for addressing poverty and inequality. Lifted Carers, an organisation in Wythenshawe, offers support and advice to parent-carers of people with learning difficulties. 

Fran Bennett initiated the discussion by exploring how Universal Credit works for couples and highlighted that the responsibility for managing Universal Credit claims often falls on women, in addition to their roles within the household. Fran pointed out that fluctuating monthly payments can exclude women from the workforce, a challenge later emphasised by the women leaders from Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Manchester. Fran Bennett stressed the importance of quantitative evidence in changing government policy but that it must be complimented by lived experience.   

During the meeting, women shared their experiences of Universal Credit, discussing the impact of the various elements of the system that have adversely affected them. These included the two-child limit, where Universal Credit only pays for the first two children in a family and the challenges faced by single parents balancing work and Universal Credit, and a lack of understanding of how the benefit works.  

Ramatoulie Saidykhan, the chair and founder of Creative Minds, a women-only group in Middlesbrough that mainly supports refugees and asylum seekers, said: 

"The main issue that arises is that women don’t understand the system of Universal Credit - it isn’t the way it is sold to them. Other common issues include male partners taking control of Universal Credit payments, so that women are dependent on them with a fear of questioning it. Women also talk about a feeling of their bank accounts being monitored and tracked by Universal Credit, and others echo issues surrounding the difficulty of working due to a lack of adequate childcare. 

“It would be useful for MPs and whoever is responsible to go back to the drawing board and have a conversation with people accessing it to see how best they could make Universal Credit more understandable and functional." 

A recurring theme was difficulty working under the current system. For instance, Annie from Sheffield described the volatility of the Universal Credit payments due to her partner’s fluctuating wages which made financial planning impossible:  

“My partner is working, and we get Universal Credit as a top up. We see dramatic changes in the amount we receive because his wage varies from month to month. This month we’ll receive over £1,000 but last month just £123. It’s impossible to plan ahead. I also recently found a job that was perfect for me, but we worked out that we would probably be around £150 worse off each month if I took it. But then on top of that, we would have to pay childcare as well which would be another £280 a month. The toll on my mental health has been absolutely shocking.” 

There were varied perspectives and common issues like the lack of payment flexibility, insufficient childcare support, and the complexity of caring for someone whilst claiming Universal Credit.

Shola from Ubuntu Multicultural centre in Middlesbrough spoke about the two-child limit and the pressure of sanctions, especially on single mothers and women from ethnic minority backgrounds:   

“I came to speak from lived experience about the impact of Universal Credit on women. I spoke about the detrimental impact of the two-child limit; the pressure and fear of sanctions that so many single mothers face; and the serious issues caused by single account payments, particularly for women from ethnic minorities. 

“At the APPG I was the voice of so many other women who are going through the same thing. I came to share some of the limitations of Universal Credit system and the pressure of being a single mother. We understand that Universal Credit does provide some security but there are limitations that are plunging people into poverty.” 

Sue, a carers family support worker for Lifted Carers based in Wythenshawe emphasised the need for a voice for carers, sharing her personal experience and concern about the impact of Universal Credit, particularly the deduction of Carers Allowance from payments and the challenges of working while in a caring role: 

“Carers needs a voice. Someone to represent them. I’m a carer myself for my son and I want to speak up for myself and for other carers. 

“The key thing for me was to share how carers are impacted by poverty greatly, particularly because of the deduction of their Carers Allowance from their Universal Credit payments, and not being able to go out to work because of their caring roles. I also shared the worries that so many carers have around the upcoming transition from the historical Employment Support Allowance over to Universal Credit and how that will affect them.” 

Overall, the meeting provided MPs with honest and impactful stories, underscoring the need for a comprehensive understanding of how the social security system affects individuals with varying challenges. It highlighted the importance of including personal experiences in system design and the crucial role of collaboration between charities, advocacy groups and government in designing policy to ensure that Universal Credit meets the diverse needs of the population and offers the support it is intended to.