A seriously ill Northern Ireland woman says she is on the “verge of taking her own life” after she was refused Universal Credit by benefit bosses in Northern Ireland.
Universal Credit replaces a number of existing social security benefits, including Housing Benefit and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – merging them into one single monthly payment.
The controversial system has been blamed for pushing vulnerable people to food banks and leaving others at the brink of suicide, due to being left weeks without the financial means to feed themselves and their families.
Tracey McAuley, who was diagnosed with a debalitating illness two years ago that left her unable to continue working, claims she has made repeated attempts to claim Universal Credit but has been refused at every turn.
The 46-year-old now believes she would be better off dead than continue fighting the imhumane and callous system.
“I wish I was dead because I wouldn’t have to live with this anymore”, she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Without the means by which to support herself, Tracey is unable to manage mortgage costs and is in fear of being made homeless at any time.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that Tracey suffers from a rare disease called Nudular Purigo, also known as Hyde’s disease, which causes skin legions and excruciating pain.
She has been informed by doctors that this awful medical condition is unlikely to be cured. But because of being unable to attend appointments, Tracy has had her claim for Universal Credit repeatedly refused.
“It took two years for me to get the right diagnosis,” she said.
“I was struggling at work with pains in my arms and hands and eventually had to be signed off from my job as a catering manager with the Education Authority in March 2018.
“I went on to statutory sick pay as doctors tried to get the condition under control with powerful drugs.
“That was halved after six months and as the condition has deteriorated I’m now facing medical retirement from my job.
“My sick pay has ended and I have no money coming in. Last month I had to live on £200 and this month there is nothing.”
Tracey continued: “I can’t drive, I don’t have the money for public transport. I have offered anyone who needs to assess me the chance of a home visit but they have told me that’s not possible
“They keep sending me forms to fill in, but I have told them my condition means I can’t even hold a pen.
“There are days when I have no skin on my hands or legs, I can’t walk and it’s excruciating to even move.
“At one stage they said I should ask my daughter to come home from university to help me fill the forms in.
“I have nothing to hide, but it’s now at the stage where I’m embarrassed to try to leave the house.”
Despite her obvious frailties, Tracey says she would still love to return to work but says the over-complicated Universal Credit system simply does not work for people like herself.
“Even if I was able to send on details through my GP, there’s a £70 charge for that and I simply can’t afford it if I want to eat or keep a roof over my head.
“I would still work if I could. I loved my job and it was heartbreaking to have to give that up.
“Now I’m caught in a cycle where the stress of the situation is making my condition worse. I don’t want to live on benefits but this was my only option.
“Now it seems I don’t even have that option and I’ve been left with nowhere else to turn. I have no idea what I’m supposed to live on and for over a year now I have been told I cannot claim Universal Credit.
“All they need to do is ask my doctor for confirmation,” she said. “They already have all the medical details they need.
“I’ve made mortgage payments on time all my working life. I’m four years away from paying that off, but it looks like I’m going to lose everything.
“I’ve also been told I can’t even get a rates rebate as I’m not on Universal Credit. I’m now over £3,000 in arrears with that.
“Honestly, I’m at my wits end. I’ve enough to do trying to deal with my health and feeling so ill and in so much pain.
“I’m so tired trying to fight this and it’s making me feel a hundred times worse. I just want to give up.
“I have already told them how much this is hurting me. I have provided the names of my consultants who have been trying to treat me.”
Tracey says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has “promised they will look at my case”, but has been told that she will receive no financial support whilst her case is reviewed.
Tracey said: “I’m sitting here crying because I don’t know what to do. I never thought for one minute I would be fighting the one place that people are supposed to turn to for help.”
A Northern Ireland government spokesperson said: “The department cannot comment on individual cases. Universal Credit replaces Jobseeker’s Allowance (income based), Employment Support Allowance (income-related), Income Support, Housing Benefit (rental), Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits for people aged over 18 and under State Pension age.
“It is initially only available for new claimants although some claimants in receipt of the impacted benefits may move to Universal Credit earlier, where their circumstances have changed.
“Existing claimants of these benefits who do not have a change in their circumstances will transfer to Universal Credit between 2020 and 2023; the department will contact them when it is time to move to Universal Credit.
“Universal Credit has existing processes in place to facilitate those claimants who have declared a health condition and who are unable to travel to their Work Capability Assessments.”