A campaigning Ilmington man has completed a 42-day hunger strike in protest against the rollout of universal credit, which can leave claimants waiting weeks for benefit payments.
Chris Young finished his strike last week, symbolic of the period of time a benefit claimant has to wait from first applying for universal credit to receiving a payment.
It has been a tough battle for Chris who has had to live with the danger of hypothermia and constant fatigue over the course of the hunger strike.
Many of his clothes no longer fit and his wedding ring now slips off his finger.
Chris, an ex-social worker and mental health campaigner, says the government have ‘slipped a few nasty things under the radar’ within the policy.
Chris said: “42 days with no money whatsoever is something I find shocking and disgusting. It’s built in to a draconian and punitive system.
“So far I’ve heard from a number of people who have had to wait longer than 42 days.
“It’s chaos, we’re hitting our most vulnerable people when they are at their most vulnerable.
“I’ve gone on hunger strike to show solidarity and to show how ridiculous universal credits are in their current form.
“The system isn’t failing, it’s doing exactly what it was set up to do and that is to punish people for being unemployed, to punish people for being poor, that’s what it’s doing today.
“We should be moving towards a system based on love and compassion, not one which treats people with suspicion.
“I was motivated to do this strike for a number of reasons. In my work I used to help people through the benefits system, but when I did it myself it was a nightmare, people just thought I was lying.
“The charity MIND also released figures recently saying 300,000 people lost their jobs in the UK last year due to mental ill health, and I just imagined these people finding themselves in this position to be told there were no services available and no money for six weeks.
“There are also 300,000 homeless people in the UK, equivalent to the population of Newcastle, and the British Medical Journal have said 120,000 people have died prematurely since austerity.
“I’ve got very fatigued over the last few weeks and have had to take hot baths to fight off the threat of hypothermia. For people who are applying for universal credit, being tired and hypothermic is hardly setting them up to work.”
In a Youtube video about his protest Chris goes into detail about the small amount claimants receive once they start being paid their benefits, urging people to alter any misconceptions that benefits claimants live lavish lifestyles.
He says that the process of obtaining crisis payments seemed like a postcode lottery and few people were aware that they could claim for these small emergency payments.
Chris is also calling for benefit sanctions, where people can have their benefits suspended from anything from 3 days to three years, to be scrapped.
He says the sanctions, which can be imposed for reasons such as missing an appointment or filling out a form incorrectly, are used disproportionately in claims involving people with mental health problems without proper legal process.
He added that current moves by the government to reduce the waiting time from 42 days to 35 would make no difference at all, and believes they are simply stalling for time.
Stratford Foodbank have recently reported a huge increase in users of its service, something it has in part attributed to the rollout of universal credit in the region.