At Author Buzz UK, we tend to stay away from matters of politics but Universal Credit is one of those topics that cuts to the heart of what it means to be an author.
Being a full-time writer is hard already
This is something we have covered before. Earning a living as an author is not at all easy. Slightly more than one author in ten can earn a full-time wage from writing alone. Which is why we have benefits like Tax Credits and the new Universal Credit. There is a huge problem though.
What’s the problem with Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is all set to replace Tax Credits but it is a drastic pay cut and comes with some restrictive and complex baggage.
According to reports, thousands more people on Universal Credit are behind on rent and council tax payments, compared to the old system. This is because Universal credit forces claimants to wait six weeks after they have been awarded the benefit before they are paid.
The delay alone would be enough to make someone considering full-time work as a writer to think twice. However, Universal credit replaces Tax Credits with a benefit with less money and more demands. Among those demands is the self-employment minimum income floor. This means that a freelance writer that does not earn enough in any given month might not be entitled to their benefits right when they need it most.
According to the CAB:
The minimum income floor will start after your start up period of 12 months runs out (from the time you apply) – so your Universal Credit payments could go down at that time if your actual earnings are lower than the minimum income floor.
Prowess called the changes “unworkable, unfair and short-sighted”.
Breaking into fulltime writing is hard enough as it is without the added burden of the very support structure that should be helping you being the thing that drags you down.
It is only getting worse
According to the Guardian newspaper:
Meanwhile, the link between universal credit and starvation is so clear that in areas where the full rollout has taken place, food bank referral rates are running at more than double the national average.
The Resolution Foundation has said, that the “roll out of Universal Credit will lead to a postcode lottery of winners and losers”. David Finch writes:
Because cuts to UC have continued while similar cuts to tax credits have been scrapped, UC will now be less generous than the benefits it replaces. Where you are in the country will determine whether you are eligible for UC or the existing system – a post-code lottery on steroids. Take a low earning single parent working 16 hours a week at £9 an hour. Under tax credits their income will be £278 a week. Under UC they will be £29 a week worse off.
What that means for authors and freelance writers is that you will be massively better or worse off based on nothing more than where you happen to live.
The danger is that amazing books, fantastic stories, and voices of our generation may never be seen or read because those voices are too busy trying to get enough to eat and never actually write the stories we long to read. This is one of those rare issues where we authors need to be united in saying to the British government – “this needs to change”.
What can you do about Universal Credit?
As with any political issue, you should seriously consider writing to your MP and let them know that your vote may be decided by this issue. MPs are highly motivated to act on issues where votes are in the balance. After all, votes are how they keep their job.
I would recommend joining national and local writer and author groups that speak out for the rights and needs of writers and authors.
Groups that advocate for authors are only as effective as the number of members they represent. By joining local and national groups you make your voice count for more. Also, many groups are able to offer support and advice which can help you steer around some of the worst parts of things like Universal credit.
Additionally, you can help raise awareness by spreading this article around – for example by sharing on social media.