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For 63-year-old Karen Isaac from Canterbury, her long-term job at Waitrose seemed an easy career with a steady income to see her through to retirement.
But three years ago her world was turned upside down when she was involved in a car accident which left her so injured, she was unable to stand up for long periods of time. She was forced to leave her job and thus didn’t have any income.
Karen explains the shame she felt when applying for Universal Credit
Karen is a mum-of-three and has two small grandchildren, she said she never imagined she would end up relying on benefits as she had a stable career in retail and a strong work ethic.
However, when she was forced to apply for Universal Credit after sustaining life-changing injuries during the crash, the experience was a complete eye-opener.
She said: “About three years ago I was in a car accident which wasn’t my fault on the way home from work – it changed everything which proves that just one thing can have a knock on effect and change your life.
“I had to go onto Universal Credit at my age, which was a bit disconcerting.”
“Beforehand I was working for Waitrose which was quite a well paid job really, and I could get the hours I wanted to do.
“They were a really good friendly team, I got on well with everybody, so I was quite enjoying that really.
“From being okay and managing to pay the bills, it ended up that I was absolutely destitute because I wouldn’t like to ask my family for any help.
“You’ve got your pride to think of and so it was a five-week wait before I got anything in the first place. I did get offered to go to a food bank but I just couldn’t do that and from then on it’s just been a bit of a struggle really.”
Her injuries meant she couldn’t go straight back into work – this is a trend seen across the UK with 72% of disabled people struggling financially after a major life event.
Before the £20 uplift during the pandemic, Karen said that she couldn’t survive on Universal Credit and was selling her mother’s jewellery to make ends meet.
With the uplift being scrapped recently, she has started desperately job searching in a different field to find part-time employment which would suit her long-term injuries.
She said: “Really you need to do a full time job, but at my age I couldn’t physically do that.
“I’m 64 next month and so you do get more tired and you do find things more of a struggle – I’m still trying to find part-time work to get back to how I was before.
“You apply for jobs and they don’t ever get back to you. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s my age or something.
“You’re stuck in that rut really. The car accident started a downward spiral and unless something amazing happens and I get offered some amazing job, I’m just going to be here waiting two years before I get my pension.”
Although, young people are in fact more likely to struggle financially with 75% of those aged 25-34 saying they struggled to recover from financial hardship, compared to just 46% aged over 55.
She added: “I feel very strongly that this stigma needs to be taken away. I feel ashamed that I’ve been on it because I think that at my age I should have got my life in order but you know, things happen and sometimes you can’t plan.”
When Karen found herself in financial trouble she contacted charity Turn2Us for support and advice.
Chief executive, Thomas Lawson said: “There is this discourse in the UK that you’re poor because you’re lazy and you don’t know how to manage budgets – we all internalise that shame and so that shame and stigma stops us from going to get help.
“If we broke our ankle we would go straight to A&E and be proud to get the best healthcare. We should be equally proud of our benefits system that supports us to get back on our feet.
“That’s what it is there for. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”
Thomas Lawson says that the stigma surrounding benefits needs to end
Recent figures from Turn2Us reveal that across the UK, 15 million people have experienced at least one life event in the past two years, that they found ‘very difficult’ or ‘not possible’ to cover the costs of, using existing income and savings.
A total of 64% of women found it more difficult to recover from such an event compared to 55% of men, as many have to consider childcare when finding a new job.
Mr Lawson continued: “I think the main thing that should happen is that we should stop shaming people for claiming benefits.
“So often after redundancy, someone will think that they’re not the kind of person who claims benefits, and they may wait up to about nine weeks before they then go and claim benefits.
“There’s a five week wait for Universal Credit, so we’re talking about 14 weeks of no income because of this ridiculous kind of shame and stigma in the UK.”
You can visit Turn2Us and use its Benefits Calculator by clicking here.