Shame and embarrassment stopping people claiming benefits
Guest blogger emma Aldridge of Turn2us explains why so many of are missing out on benefits we are entitled to, and what the charity is doing to change that.
Throughout April, Turn2us is hosting its second annual Benefits Awareness Month to encourage people to check their entitlement to welfare benefits, in case they are missing out on any additional support.
Turn2us is a charity that helps people in financial need gain access to the welfare benefits, charitable grants, or other help available to them. It does this through its free and confidential website and its telephone helpline.
There are 13.5 million people living below the poverty line in the UK, including nearly four million children. Despite this financial hardship, the latest government figures show that a staggering £19 billion in welfare benefits goes unclaimed every year. That includes £6.48 billion in Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits.
Awareness of available welfare benefits among people who may be at risk of losing their income is still very low – previous Turn2us research showed that only 40% would try to claim benefits if they needed to. For many, the perceived social stigma prevents them from getting the help they are entitled to.
Shame and embarrassment
Our latest research, among people with personal incomes of less than £14,999, further highlights reluctance to claim. It reveals that over half (59%) believe that welfare benefits exist to help the most vulnerable in society, yet nearly a fifth (17%) do not associate themselves with this group, reporting they have not claimed in the past and could never see themselves doing so, despite being on a low income.
Shockingly, one in seven (13%) of those surveyed said they would rather cut back on essentials such as food rather than claim benefits, and 6% would be too ashamed to tell friends and family if they needed to claim.
Our findings show that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the welfare benefits available and reduce some of the negative views around claiming. With increasing numbers of households being affected by rising unemployment, pay freezes and high inflation, including those who never expected to face financial difficulty, we hope our campaign will help tackle some of the perceived stigmas so that people can access the help available to them.
The Turn2us website has a benefits calculator which anyone can use, free and in confidence to work out which welfare benefits and tax credits they might be entitled to and possible amounts they might receive. The website also contains further information on welfare benefits and how to make a claim.
Even if individuals have checked their entitlement before, if their circumstances have changed, it is worth looking again for support that could make a real difference. The average annual uplift in previously unclaimed benefits is £3,322 for individuals who have used Turn2us. That money can be a vital helping hand in giving someone a better quality of life, making all the difference between having to choose between heating their home and feeding their family.
Spreading the word
Turn2us is working in partnership with a number of charitable organisations across the UK throughout the month, who are helping to spread word of the help available for people in financial need and how they can access it.
Turn2us has also launched a ‘guess-who’ game, available at www.benefitsawareness.org.uk which features real-life stories of a diverse group of people who claim welfare benefits. Through asking questions about the circumstances of the claimants who appear and illustrating how benefits have made a difference in these people’s lives, the game aims to challenge some of the stigmas and stereotypes linked to claiming benefits.
Emma Aldridge is projects manager at Turn2us