Rise in Universal Credit claimants asking for money online
A growing number of Universal Credit claimants in the north east are asking for money online, we can reveal.
More than 100 campaigns linked to either the controversial benefit or food banks have been set up in the region since 2013.
In the north east, 74 Go Fund Me campaigns linked to Universal Credit have been set up between 2013-2019. This includes 16 in County Durham, 11 in Sunderland, seven in Northumberland, six in Hartlepool and five in South Tyneside.
A further 31 campaigns linked to food banks were set up in the same period, including six in Northumberland, four in County Durham, two in Hartlepool and one each in Sunderland and South Tyneside.
Nationally, more than 800 campaigns linked to the have been set up on crowdfunding site GoFundMe in the past year - a five-fold rise from the year before.
Poverty charity Turn2us said the situation was “really quite shocking”.
With Universal Credit blamed by some for a rise in food handouts by charities, the site has also seen an increasing number of cash appeals for food banks.
Data shared exclusively with the JPIMedia Data unit by GoFundMe reveals more than 1,100 crowdfunding campaigns have mentioned Universal Credit since 2013.
They received more than 6,000 donations, raising at least £250,000, according to the website.
As many of the campaigns are no longer live, JPIMedia Data cannot say in what context the benefit was mentioned in the appeals.
More than £500,000 has also been donated to campaigns mentioning food banks, although the data will include any appeals for pet food banks or overseas food banks.
The area with the highest number of crowdfunding campaigns was Birmingham, with 39, followed by Glasgow, with 32.
While the overall number of fundraisers set up on GoFundMe has risen by some 38% in the past year, the number mentioning Universal Credit has grown far more rapidly, which the site attributed partly to the benefit’s continuing roll-out.
There are currently around 2.5 million people now on Universal Credit in the UK. As of September 2019, that included 28,052 in County Durham, 15,170 in Sunderland, 9758 in Northumberland, 9065 in Hartlepool and 8868 in South Tyneside.
Sara Willcocks, of poverty charity Turn2us, said: “Our social security system was created in the 20th century to stop people from going hungry and having to rely on the generosity of strangers for help. Needless to say, the scale of people in a 21st century society having to resort to crowdfunding so they can survive day to day is really quite shocking.”
A spokesperson for GoFundMe added: "The powerful thing about tools such as GoFundMe is people adapt them to the needs they have. We hope one day that people will not need to crowdfund to be able to meet basic needs. Until then, our tools are here for people to give and get help when people are in need."
The Department for Work and Pensions said people on Universal Credit can get paid urgently if they need it.
A spokesperson said: “Universal Credit provides a vital safety net for people who are out of work or on low wages with more than 2.5 million people supported by it.
“It’s a better, simpler system that will see 700,000 families get on average £285 more a month than under the previous one.
“And as we’ve rolled it out, we’ve made improvements such as increasing advances to 100%, removing the seven day waiting period and continuing Housing Benefit for the first two weeks.”
The Conservative Party said that the number of campaigns represented a tiny fraction of people on Universal Credit.
They also said GoFundMe’s data included campaigns which supported overseas projects, pet food banks and sponsored sporting activities.
Labour has pledged to scrap Universal Credit entirely, while the Liberal Democrats have said they would put more investment into the Universal Credit system.