Universal Credit is set to roll out across Sheffield from November, with local groups to be stretched to breaking point

“I think it will be absolutely horrendous.”

Sally Dale, leader of the Gleadless Valley Tenants and Residents Association (TARA), believes the introduction of Universal Credit will affect her clients more than most.  

Regarding deprivation in the area, she said: “We have a lot of alcoholics and drug users here. Under Universal Credit, the money goes straight into their bank account and I believe it’s obvious where it’s going to go.”

“This will then drive their debts up as the and lead to massive problems.”

Universal Credit, the monthly payment system brought in by the government to replace a range of benefits, has seen much debate both nationally and locally.

In July 2018, NHS Sheffield and Sheffield City Council published a joint report estimating the number of applicants expected across the city.

In Gleadless Valley, spanning across S2 and S14 postcodes, nearly 6,000 people currently claim Housing Benefits while its estimated there will be 151 Universal Credit weekly, the second highest in the city.

The TARA has a wider remit than simply housing complaints. Mrs Dale expects them to be stretched further, with the mandatory Citizen Advice Worker at the association expected to increase their hours.

She said: “We are already starting to see more people through the door, more calls, more emails and people contacting us via social media asking for help and it will continue.”

Gleadless Valley Foodbank, as part of the Trussell Trust Group, is braced for a hard couple of months with the group beginning to see signs of Universal Credit.

Last Friday, they gave out 620 kg of food. On average, one person will take eight to ten kilos with them for three days. So, by extension, around 60 to 70 mouths will be fed over those that period, with this expected to grow.

Even a few months before, they were feeding 30 families a week. Now that has risen to 45, according to one of their volunteers.

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Jock Stevenson, a former client and now volunteer at the Trussell Trust Food Bank, in their store room

They already have to give out funds raised by donations, with Tesco Supermarket not only supporting with food but financially.  

Danny Baker, co-founder of the foodbank, said “The other week, we gave food to a young mother. As she went out the door, she was crying. I went over and she said ‘You have given me all this food but I have no means of cooking’”

We have to give some people funds as well as food, but not others. It’s almost like playing God.”

Jock Stevenson, a volunteer at Trussell Trust, was initially a client at the foodbank like most of their workforce.

He said: “The country’s in a mess. I’m 55 but I’ve never seen it as bad as this. I was poor but never had to go to food banks. It’s crazy.”

With the Universal Credit applications being solely online, many in Gleadless who will apply don’t have Internet access.

John Marshall leads computer classes with the Heeley Trust, which offers IT support to jobseekers. He was given three hours training from Sheffield Council on the new process with it being “rushed through” according to him.

One of the pupils, Kevin Reed, said that he didn’t know how to upload documents without attending the class, a requirement of the new benefit scheme.

On the monthly waiting period for new applicants, Mr Reed said: “More people will be down the food bank. More will be homeless and be unable to pay the rent. It’s going to get worse.”

With it expected to take full force in the New Year, it remains to be seen how Universal Credit will affect others in Gleadless Valley.