Cost of living crisis in Wales: 'There are people left struggling when they shouldn't be'

  •  Video report by ITV Correspondent Carole Green

A Wrexham resident has opened up on the struggles of living on Universal Credit, how poverty affects mental health and the additional strain of waiting months for assessments for support.

Colin Ridgway has lived in Caia Park for the last 33 years and describes it as "the best community" he has ever known.

"They took me in when I was at my lowest, they took me in and I just can't believe their warmth. The community round here really does look after each other."

He says everyone helps each other out: "We're always keeping an eye out for each other. There's a big community bond here, we feel like we're a part of something and we're a part of a community."

The removal of the temporary £20 universal credit uplift has had a huge impact on families.

Colin doesn't believe that the area has been treated fairly, adding that the community has had to struggle struggle against "amazing problems that aren't of their own making."

He said those in the community commonly face major challenges, including unemployment and a lack of education and mental health support.

Colin said: "Young people's unemployment has always been a problem, when I was a kid we had schemes like YTS, then I think there was something else in between, then I think there was Tony Blair's new deal for young people and now they're talking about a new deal for young people again, it's like we're re-visiting the same problems youth unemployment has always been a problem in this area.

"I'm a big believer in education, but you've got to have education within the community. There was a start towards that, maybe in the 90s, but that's very much gone. There isn't education in the community now, you've got to build people's confidence up.

"Mental health is a big problem, living in poverty affects your mental health, it de-motivates you. I'd certainly like to see mental health services vastly improved for all age groups across the area."

"I wouldn't want to live anywhere else". Credit: ITV Wales

Having worked all of his life up until about three years ago, former lorry driver Colin has struggled finding work that won't worsen his medical conditions.

He said: "Unfortunately, with my back getting bad and not being able to drive, and the pain even just climbing into a truck, I've had to give that up and I'm stuck in a gap where I don't have that skillset to move on into work so I'm now stuck on Universal Credit.

"I have other health problems now that have come up on top of my back, so the back might have been the initial problem but I've now got a couple of other health problems which severely affect my ability to work and my access to benefits.

"I've been trying to wait for over five months I think it is now, for the DWP to give me an assessment - I can't access the other benefits that I could be entitled to until I get that assessment, which has been cancelled once."

Unfortunately, Colin is not the only one who is struggling.

He continued: "The system's not working, never mind taking the £20 away a week which has made a massive difference, and now with the heating bills and electric bills going through the roof, a lot of people are getting towards desperation and I think I am as well.

"I think that Universal Credit, when it was first established, the idea was good. But it's fallen down as it's been rolled out. It's not universal, bits of the system aren't working, there are people left struggling when they shouldn't be."

"I have to go and walk into town every couple of weeks to go for my appointment at the job centre because until I've had the medical and they tell them that I'm not fit for work, even though my doctors tell them I'm not fit for work, I still have to go there."

When asked if he sees families living in the area who don't have enough money for everyday basics, Colin replied "of course I do, yeah."

According to Colin: "There's a family round here that I was talking to a couple of weeks ago and they were putting £10-£15 of electric in their meter every two to three days. That sort of expense, you take that out and it's not because they're being extravagant or anything, that's just the price of things going up."

When asked about the current cost of living crisis, a UK Government spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions said: "This government is committed to supporting families and people in need, we have provided billions of additional welfare support through the pandemic and continue to do so.

"Work is the best route out of poverty and the changes we have made to Universal Credit will see nearly two million working claimants better off by around £1,000 a year.

"The most vulnerable, including those who can't work, can get additional benefits, and help with essential costs is available through our new £500 million support fund."

From 1 December 2021, the government has reduced the Universal Credit taper rate from 63p to 55p, a change that combined with our work allowances increase represents an effective tax cut of £2.2bn.

"We were always clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was temporary." Credit: PA Images

In practice this means that, for every £1 that a claimant earns, their Universal Credit payment will be reduced by 55p, making them 45p better off than if they had not worked.

The spokesperson continued: "Many claimants also have a work allowance, which means that they have a certain amount - in some cases over £500 a month - that they can earn before the taper rate begins to reduce their Universal Credit award. We are increasing these by £500 per annum."

The changes to the taper rate and work allowance should see nearly two million working families on Universal Credit gain an average of approximately £1,000 per annum.

Vulnerable households across the country will be able to access a new £500m support fund to help them with essentials over the coming months as the country continues its recovery from the pandemic.

The Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson continued: "We were always clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it did so.

"We have a comprehensive childcare offer in place for working parents, as well as further help in place for families with the cost of living - including by maintaining nearly £1 billion of additional housing support through Local Housing Allowance rates."