Play based on research into the impact of the benefits system

A new play based on ground-breaking research into Universal Credit aims to help people understand the impact of the latest and biggest change to the benefits system.

The play, Credit, is based on stories shared by people living on Universal Credit and depicts how people in the North East are dealing with the ongoing changes to the welfare system.

Those stories and personal experiences have been drawn from research led by Fuse academic Dr Mandy Cheetham.

Dr Cheetham was invited to give evidence in June to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee on the impact of Universal Credit and the problems that claimants experience during the wait for a first payment.

She previously led a research study which found that people moved onto Universal Credit are fighting to survive and are being forced into debt, rent arrears and extreme hardship, with serious consequences for their health and wellbeing.

Written by award-winning Laura Lindow, the play is based on findings from the research study, which was among the first to focus on the experiences of vulnerable people and advice and support staff in an area where Universal Credit had been rolled out.

The play had been due to open in Newcastle in April, but will now instead be streamed online. A rehearsed recorded reading from Credit will be streamed on 16 September, followed by two online Q&A events with a discussion panel including Guardian social policy editor Patrick Butler, Gateshead's Director of Public Health, Alice Wiseman and writer Laura Lindow.

Dr Mandy Cheetham, Postdoctoral Research Associate with Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, and Teesside University's School of Health & Life Sciences, co-authored the study with Professor Suzanne Moffatt and Dr Michelle Addison from Newcastle University

The study concludes that Universal Credit does not achieve the aims of simplifying the benefit system and improving work incentives, and that it is not working for vulnerable claimants and significantly adds to the pressures facing claimants and workload of staff supporting them.

" It had been harrowing to hear participants' accounts of UC, which was described by one interviewee as 'insidious brutality' "

                                                       Dr Mandy Cheetham 

Dr Cheetham said: "The research grew out of embedded research in Gateshead with local communities facing significant challenges, who were concerned about Universal Credit and what it meant for them.

"We collaborated with people claiming Universal Credit and front line staff to obtain 'lived experience' testimonies about the impact, building on the research undertaken in 2018. It had been harrowing to hear participants' accounts of UC, which was described by one interviewee as 'insidious brutality'. The play is rooted in these and other claimants' experiences."

She added: "We were keen to find creative ways to share the findings and prompt debates about what kind of world we want to live in. With many more people moving onto Universal Credit as a result of COVID-19, these issues are more important than ever to explore."

Director Brad McCormick said: "As part of the process for making this show we were able to speak to many people who either claim Universal Credit or who work with people who are claiming.

"Alongside the research this gave us such a clear picture of the situation that people in the North East are facing under this welfare system and was invaluable in grounding the show in truth. You will see elements of these people's stories in Credit and they are a mixture of fascinating, darkly funny and heartbreaking."

Watch the preview and Q&A events on 16 September.

Last modified: Thu, 06 Aug 2020 11:02:35 BST