'Thanks to Universal Credit, I can’t live with my girlfriend without losing financial independence' — Scope | Disability forum
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'Thanks to Universal Credit, I can’t live with my girlfriend without losing financial independence'

Tori_Scope
Tori_Scope Posts: 6,686

Scope community team

In an article in the Metro Shona, a Scope storyteller, explains how Universal Credit rules mean she can't move in with her partner without losing her income and financial independence.

When my girlfriend and I first started talking about moving in together, I didn’t fully realise the financial impact it would have on me.

Excited conversations about how nice it would be to have our own little space, and to not have to travel so far to see each other, quickly turned into frantic googling after I discovered through others sharing their experiences that cohabiting meant I could lose some of my benefits.

People always talk about the money you can save by living with someone else but I could actually be worse off if we moved in together. Much worse off. 
Why? I’m reliant on Universal Credit for a big portion of my income, because I am disabled. And if I was to move in with my partner, I could lose at least half of the benefits that I’m currently entitled to. 

I live with a genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome, which means I use an electric wheelchair to get around and, just a few months ago, I had major open-heart surgery due to my condition. The way my disability affects me changes on a daily basis; I deal with chronic pain and fatigue every day but some days are worse than others. A severe migraine or a flare up of my spinal pain can wipe out a whole day for me.

As a result, working full-time hours just isn’t possible so I am reliant on
Universal Credit.

In the UK, the benefit is means-tested against not only your own income and savings, but also those of your partner, if you choose to move in together and be legally recognised as a couple.

This means that my girlfriend – fortunately, or unfortunately – earns too much for me to be entitled to any support if we lived together. If my Universal Credit was cut, I would be almost completely reliant on her for money, and that’s not a situation either of us desires. 

The amount of money I receive through Universal Credit already varies depending on my self-employed income each month – but, on average, I’d be going from getting £400-£600 a month, to far less.  

I became officially self-employed three years ago, after realising that working for myself is the only type of employment that is flexible enough and accessible for me. I now work as a freelance writer and photographer, and I run a small Etsy shop selling crochet animals and bee keyrings. 

However, despite the accessibility, the income can be very unstable. It is never guaranteed, and it can vary dramatically from month to month. My disability affects how much I can work – one day I might only manage to reply to a few emails, but the next I could feel well enough to take an in-person photography job. This means I never quite know how much I’ll make each month.

In a good month, I could earn nearly as much as my partner, meaning the amount of Universal Credit I receive goes down. The next month I might only be able to take on one or two jobs and suddenly I’m back to being fully reliant on my benefits.

It’s the unpredictable nature of my work and my disability combined that makes it such a risk to lose the security that Universal Credit provides. 

It doesn’t seem in any way fair that I am forced to choose between being dependent on a partner and living with them, or being self-sufficient but living separately.

I met my girlfriend almost three years ago, through our shared love of theatre – she spotted me at the stage door of one of our favourite shows, Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. And, thanks to social media, we connected a few weeks later. I have a very visible disability so from the start she was aware of some of the barriers that might be in our way, but we were determined to face them together.

As things progressed, moving in together was a conversation that naturally came up. It felt like a really obvious step for us, particularly as we live over an hour away from each other. We’re currently stuck only being able to see each other once a week – all of which makes it even more frustrating that we can’t move in together without me losing a huge chunk of my income.

I feel a lot of guilt as a disabled person – I often feel like an inconvenience, and someone that makes life more difficult. I think about how straightforward moving out would be if I was able to work full time hours, and if my disability didn’t limit my options. My partner is incredible at reassuring me, but she is definitely angry at the benefits system for putting us in this position.  

Moving in with the person you love is meant to be a happy and exciting step to take together but, for couples like us, anxiety is the overriding emotion. I feel like I’m stalling our relationship and it’s hard not to blame yourself in this situation, even though there is no one to blame but the government.

It truly feels like the odds are stacked against me. It feels like I don’t have, and won’t ever have, the same chance at independence that my peers have.
It’s likely that I won’t ever be able to work a traditional nine-to-five job. Having my own financial security and independence, while also living with my girlfriend, often feels like a pipe dream.

There are wider repercussions as well. Given that disabled people are almost three times as likely to experience domestic abuse, it’s shocking that our own benefits system can work to take away our independence, rather than give us it.

Countless disabled people who cannot work long term are forced to rely on their partners financially, meaning that they may feel stuck in less-than-ideal circumstances.  

Even for those couples where both members are reliant on Universal Credit, it’s only paid into one bank account, if living together. I feel very grateful to be in a safe and loving relationship because I can see just how easy it would be to find yourself trapped within an abusive one, in a situation like this.

For now, I’ll keep doing my best to try and make our dream a reality.

Unfortunately, there is really only one way to make it happen: I will have to work beyond what I’m physically capable of to make sure I have my own financial independence, and make up the gap that losing Universal Credit would create.

We’ve faced so many hurdles together already, I’m determined that this will be another we will conquer somehow. I know it will happen eventually for us, but for many others, the outcome will not be a positive one.

It’s time our government recognised the importance of financial independence and updated the benefits system accordingly, so couples like us aren’t having to choose between a rock and a hard place.

A DWP spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Universal Credit is designed to help with day-to-day living costs, so it is right that household income is taken into account when claims are made. We also offer non-means tested support such as Personal Independence Payments to help people with the extra costs of living with a disability or health condition.’

Do you think it's fair that a partner's income and savings are taken into account if two people live together? 

Do you think disabled people are punished for wanting to live with their partner? 

Could the DWP do anything to ensure disabled people can remain financially independent if they choose to live with their partner? 

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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Comments

  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,675 Disability Gamechanger
    Do I think it's fair..yes I do, and it's always been this way.

    I don't think disabled people are being punished.

    Most disabled people claim PIP and that would continue to be paid to the disabled claimant.


    I am a person with epilepsy not an epileptic, my illness doesn't define me.
  • Cress
    Cress Member Posts: 999 Pioneering
    edited October 29

    Sad but lots of things aren't fair....maybe in this particular situation a compromise would be possible ie to spend half the week at each others house, then would there be no effect on benefits? At least they'll get to spend a lot more time together...and if they did move in together there would be savings with rent, bills which would go some way to mitigate the loss of benefits...

    Sorry, not thinking this is a particularly difficult problem to have.
  • calcotti
    calcotti Member Posts: 3,419 Disability Gamechanger
    On means tested benefits a couple have always got less than two individuals and only one member of the couple would be paid the means tested benefit. Universal Credit is actually better than legacy benefits for a couple because both UC claimants get NI credits (albeit only Class 3) whereas on legacy benefits only the claimant (and not the partner) got NI credits.
    Information I post is for England unless otherwise stated. Rules may be different in other parts of UK.
  • chiarieds
    chiarieds Community Co-Production Group Posts: 11,079 Disability Gamechanger
    Putting aside Universal Credit, moving in together, or being married, can mean there are financial inequalities anyway. I think we may all like to feel financially independent, but speaking personally, this can change. After I got married, my husband felt awkward as I earned more than him; once we started our family that changed as he was the only person bringing in a wage. So, at different stages of our lives there may be such financial inequalities anyway.
    I do appreciate Shona's comments about her disability, as I have a heritable connective tissue disorder too, & was also for a long time self employed. In her case, however, it does appear as a couple they would have sufficient monies even if Shona's UC will be reduced, so I don't see that as unfair, nor discriminating of anyone with a disability. I don't see Shona & her girlfriend being forced into making a decision whether to live together or not despite their differing incomes....it's a choice.
    I do wish them both well.
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,675 Disability Gamechanger
    We have always had a joint bank account which we saw as the perfectly right thing to do all those years ago, but over the years we have known many couples who have has separate bank accounts.
    I am a person with epilepsy not an epileptic, my illness doesn't define me.
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,842 Disability Gamechanger
    Difficult to have much sympathy and arguably a case of someone being given a voice ahead of others with much much more to complain about. 

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