I was fourteen when I first saw a homeless person. My upbringing in the rural town of Richmond, tucked away at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, was a sheltered bubble—it’s a blessing and a curse. Conservative since 1910, Richmondshire has hosted notable politicians such as William Hague and now Rishi Sunak.
Although we don’t face the same issues as those growing up in urban areas, there are unique problems people here face in terms of employability which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reliant on tourism, with an abundance of independent hospitality businesses, the local economy has been crippled by lockdown—leaving many people, especially the young, out of work. A driving force behind cutting the £20 uplift to Universal Credit (UC), Rishi Sunak has abandoned his vulnerable constituents at a time when they need it most.
When not in London, Rishi Sunak—thought to be Parliament’s richest MP, whose family has a wealth larger than the Queen—resides in his 1.5 million pound mansion in Richmondshire. He lives only a few miles down the road but a world away from the economic hardships of his constituents.
According to the DWP, the total UC caseload in Richmondshire has increased by 73 per cent since March 2020. Removing the £20 uplift from local families could take around £6,200,000 out of the local economy, or more if the caseload increases.
Ultimately, a failure to extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit—at time of national economic crisis—would not only be detrimental for the people claiming Universal Credit but also for the wider community and local economy of the very area Rishi Sunak represents.
For those households facing such economic hardship, the loss of £20 a week is equivalent to 3 days of food and almost 7 days of energy costs; a dangerous blow to the pocket that would be felt by many.
Dean Barber, 26, from Richmond, expressed the hardship he’d faced since losing his job in 2019. Before the uplift, Barber was unable to pay for the most basic necessities. “I couldn’t afford the internet—I couldn’t communicate with the outside world. It was debilitating. I had to cut down my food by half just to be able to pay the bills.”
Not only did this have an impact on his physical wellbeing but also his mental health too. “I was depressed. I felt like I was being punished for not being able to find a job because of where I lived.”
Barber lost his job due to heightened prices in public transport and reduced hours. His experiences are echoed by many of his age. Trapped by geography: the beautiful prison (voted Europe’s best National Park) is both scenic and isolating. It lacks the resources and employment opportunities that cities offer.
Barber continued: “Richmond is a place, in my opinion, where people come to ‘settle down’ once they’ve built their life and wealth. Young people who want to build their lives here, like me, lack the same economic and career support that people in urban areas receive.”
Jackie Fielding, who works for Citizens Advice Bureau North Yorkshire, explained that those on Universal Credit in these areas can become trapped in a cycle of unemployment and lack of economic mobility. “Richmondshire is a rural area so having a car is essential—something that may not be as essential if you lived in a city or large town.”
“It is very difficult to live a normal life on UC. You could never finance a car. When you’re talking about the difficulty of paying gas or heating—what most people consider essential—these things aren’t always feasible on Universal Credit. You have to make a lot of sacrifices to get by.”
The damage of a reduction in Universal Credit extends to those who have to homeschool their children during the pandemic. Fielding tells me she’s had clients who have been unable to pay for necessities, such as paper, to facilitate their children’s learning.
Take into account the extra gas and electricity being used while working at home, it paints a very bleak picture for those at the brunt of Britain’s economic crisis. A single parent from Richmondshire, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed her struggles homeschooling her child while on Universal Credit.
“I dread to think what my gas and electric bills are going to be like—huge compared to this time last year when we were both at work or school. The Universal Credit uplift has made a huge difference—I’m probably spending £20 extra a week on gas and electric and heating bills alone.”
“I’ve been a taxpayer for 23 years. I’ve paid into that system and never claimed a penny of benefits in my entire life and now, when faced with an economic crisis through no fault of our own, we’re not getting the support we desperately need,” she added.
I’ll always be proud of my roots. I love my town and community. However, having such a notable MP that neglects his most vulnerable constituents is heartbreaking. Compound this with a local press that fails to hold him to account, and those who have slipped through the net of economic support are voiceless.
This is an issue that desperately needs addressing and for that, we need an MP who expresses care for his vulnerable constituents—not through words but action.