“I try not to let people in here because I get embarrassed,” says 29-year-old Lynton Lockett, standing in his kitchen in Burnley.
A leaking kitchen tap has caused mould on the floor and walls. A dangling sticky trap hangs from the ceiling to catch an infestation of fruit flies – flourishing in the damp conditions.
Lynton, who is on Universal Credit (UC), is showing the kitchen to plumber James Anderson who runs a community initiative to provide free heating and plumbing services to people who can’t pay for them.
James admits he’s horrified by what he’s seen, saying: “It can’t be ignored. You can’t live like this forever.”
Yet James fears the lives of people like Lynton will get worse not better this winter – and a big part of that is the end of the Universal Credit £20 weekly uplift payments.
Lynton tells us he and his partner receive around £1,300 in UC payments a month but after paying their bills they have around £400-£500 left to spend on food and all other essentials, including the internet for themselves and their three children.
The cut in the uplift payment will take an £80 a month chunk out of that.
Lynton, who used to be an upholsterer but now doesn’t work, says: “It makes a big difference really with all the extra costs of things nowadays and stuff creeping up in price. Money is really tight.
“We have to balance it and if I can’t I have to borrow. You’re always behind and it’s a cycle.
“You’re just about pushing yourself in the positives to pay for things and leaving you enough. But then when you take that (uplift payments) out you have to work out everything else again. And before you know it, you’ve less money for your shopping, less money for your kids and it’s a losing battle.”
Of plumber James, Lynton says: “It’s good that people are there helping because nobody gives a s*** really.”
James Anderson, whose community initiative is called DEPHER CIC, has been a plumber for more than 20 years and is worried about the impact of the changes in UC.
He says he’s anticipating he’ll receive an increase in calls for help by as much as 50% this winter.
He has also started sending out food parcels to those who are struggling.
James describes the end of the UC payments on top of the pandemic, the rise in the cost of living, gas prices and the end of furlough as a “nail in the coffin”.
He says: “Families are under enough pressure as it is. Children are under enough pressure they don’t need this other nail in the coffin because it might be the final nail for a lot of people.
“You can’t hide the truth. If this continues people are going to die – simple as that. The sad fact is it will be children.”
It’s a stark warning – but Universal Credit garners divisive opinions.
The government says it was only ever meant to be a temporary measure to help people through the pandemic and is offering support to get people to increase their working hours.
As we filmed, we crossed paths with a woman who didn’t want to appear on camera who is on Universal Credit.
Aware we were asking people affected how they feel about the changes, she shouted: “People on benefits should be thankful for what they’re getting.
“At the end of the day it’s a free f****** handout from the government. If they want to deduct it by a bit let them deduct it by a bit.”
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