My name is Bernadette Horton and I am married with four sons aged 14-24, the youngest of whom is autistic. I am a part-time, self employed independent sales rep, and my husband has two part-time self employed jobs as a DJ and a cricket coach. We also care for our son.
The welfare reforms that will affect my family, are universal credit - both working and child tax credits and the new regulations regarding the self employed within universal credit. As we have a disabled child we will also be hit by the reduction in the disabled child tax element too. My main concern is that my son only has two years left before he becomes an ‘adult’ and has to move from DLA to PIP on his 16th birthday.
For the first time a government are taking the unprecedented step of interviewing and keeping a monthly eye on low paid workers who claim working tax credit. When universal credit is rolled out this year, the self employed will be required to attend a gateway interview and have their self employment scrutinised. They will also be subject to a “minimum income floor” which assumes a business must earn the equivalent of the minimum wage per hour. For example if you work 20 hours a week from Oct 2013 the DWP will assume this is 20 x £6.31. Only a newly started business will be given time to set up in its first 6 months and make a loss. Everyone else will be looked at in minute detail.
As I understand it, if a business is not earning an equivalent of the minimum wage, a self employed person may be asked to look for an employed position as the business is deemed not viable. Sanctions are also in place if a person misses the monthly reporting deadline with their income to the job centre appointment with a climbing scale of sanctions for perceived misdemeanours.
There are some very obvious questions to ask the DWP in regard to the self employed. My first one is: Many women do part time self employed jobs like Avon, Betterware or Kleeneze as sales reps. We earn commission on the amount we sell once every three weeks. To earn £80 we have to sell £500 worth of goods. As a baseline the majority do not earn anywhere near the minimum wage over a period of three weeks. I feel that women will be hit disproportionately by the minimum income floor and unfairly. As I am a carer for my disabled son I am exempt, but my husband is not. As a DJ he’s seen pubs and clubs shutting every week. Our income is unpredictable and quite poor in the winter months especially, and minimum wage very hard to achieve on a monthly basis. That is why my husband works two self employed Jobs to cover the bad times and increase our income in the spring/summer as a cricket coach.
I feel those in the creative arts like writers, craftspeople and sculptors who have sporadic incomes will also be unfairly hit, as will seasonal workers, gardeners, groundsmen who may depend on the weather for hours worked and income.
We already feel a lot of strain as a low paid family. Now our tax credits could be withdrawn, or my husband forced to stop his self employment and be made to seek a paid job, initially claiming JSA.
In the budget, George Osborne talked of low paid workers, hard working families striving to do the right thing. I thought he was talking about my family. But now because we are low paid, we are now seen as somehow “not doing enough” to earn more in a time of unprecedented austerity. The result will be people like myself forcibly being denied self employment and then being out of work. Surely that does not benefit the unemployment statistics that will rise as a consequence?
I fear for my family’s future under universal credit and would urge the government to have some compassion on those who are doing their best to survive. In the governments own terms we are contributing to society and our work is vital to the people we serve.