After a short stay in prison, 46-year-old Mark Smith was recently handed a one-off ‘discharge grant’ of £70 but that did not sustain him for long.
Mark attempted to get help from the Huddersfield Job Centre Plus office.
He was trying to get onto the Government website to begin a claim but neither of his old-style mobile phones appeared to be working properly.
“I’m having trouble,” he said.
“I am getting frustrated, trying to get through to the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions). It’s ‘press this option and that option’.
“I got sent to jail for four weeks, came out and want to make a quick, simple claim, to get it up and running. It’s sending me insane.”
He added: “Nearly two and a half weeks I have had no money.”
Mark, who is living in a flat in Oakes, Huddersfield, said he been given a short prison sentence for breaching his probation for “nicking a sandwich”.
Mark said he found the benefits system, particularly accessing online portals, “really frustrating” without the technology to hand.
“It is sending me poorly. I came down here (the JobCentre) to sort it out. It’s making me suicidal. I am being deadly truthful; I am getting to the end of my tether.
“I just want it sorting out so I can relax. I am starting to cry now. I am not used to phones. Before lockdown I was in touch with a support worker. I need some support.”
Mark was among a steady stream of people visiting the JobCentre this week who shared their stories with Yorkshire Live about life on Universal Credit.
Ragheb Azam, a married dad-of-two, arrived in Huddersfield from war-torn Homs, Syria, around four years ago in a resettlement scheme that was part of Britain’s response to the refugee crisis.
He’s previously worked as a cleaner in a Huddersfield restaurant but isn’t working at present as he’s waiting for surgery on a health issue.
The 37-year-old, speaking through an interpreter, his friend Ahmed Alanazi, said he and his family were managing on the income they received through the benefits system.
“I would prefer to find a job and work,” he said.
“I am here four years and it’s okay in Huddersfield. I worked part-time in the restaurant for one year.
“I study English two days a week.”
Mum of two Natalie, 30, from Huddersfield, earns around £210 a month as a lunchtime supervisor at a school, and receives £1,100 Universal Credit (UC) per month which she has to pay her rent from.
She says the end of the £20 a week Covid uplift to UC will hit her hard.
“That month is going to hit me. It will be tight. It helped over Covid as schools were closed and I was unable to work. I think it is right (to end it) as it was only a temporary uplift.”
Nina, from Holmfirth, lost her cleaning job during the pandemic as she couldn’t enter the homes of pensioner clients.
She had to rely on neighbours for money and has got into debt. Now she’s on Universal Credit, getting just over £400 per month, and can barely pay her mortgage.
“By the time I have paid my mortgage and bought food there’s nothing left.”
She has just found another job but the hours aren’t fixed so her situation won’t be much better.
Nina says the Universal Credit system is ‘crap’, saying: “For every pound that you earn they take 63p (from the UC payment).
“I was better off on the Tax Credits system. I lost £200 when they went from one system to the other.”
Speaking about the end of the £20 uplift, she said: “To lose £80 per month – it is a lot of money. I have borrowed money from neighbours and have not paid it back yet.”
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