‘I rely on the state pension

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Val McKie spent several years in poverty as a pensioner and even now has just £80 a month for food and other essential items.

The 71-year-old is calling on whoever wins the election to prioritise those living in poverty by reducing the time it takes to pay universal credit and make the system easier to access.

She told i: “People in poverty are vulnerable to getting into debt, creating a cycle of distress, despair and ill health. All politicians need to acknowledge and understand the true cost of poverty and the damage it does to people and wider society.

“It occupies your mind from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep.”

Val’s husband died in 2007, which was a devastating loss. After that a series of events led to her couch surfing with friends between 2012 and 2015.

“After the tragic death of my husband of only four years, the loss of my steady income through my contractor closing down and finally my landlord selling my home, I was left couch surfing and destitute.

“I was overwhelmed with shame at the situation I was in. I struggled for years before I found the courage and strength to ask for help.”

Val eventually managed to find a room in a house where she lives in the North West to rent.

She used to work in management training and consultancy specialising in conflict resolution but now does some coaching and mentoring work part time.

The work hours are unreliable and she is often not sure how much she will make from it each month – if anything.

After taking a drawdown pension of £340 a month when she turned 55, which lasted until she was just over 70, she now only gets £770 every four weeks in the form of a state pension.

This leaves her with just £80 for food after she has paid her rent and bills.

Currently, she shares her rented home with a lodger she found on Spare Room.

Although she could apply for benefits, she doesn’t following a bad experience with the system.

“When I finally had a permanent address in 2016, I was eligible to apply for benefits. Some 12 months later, I received a letter from the DWP to tell me they were looking into my benefits claim, as they had found out that my name was linked to someone that I had not told them about and thought it was fraudulent.

“They provided me with very little information as to what had happened but I eventually worked out it was because my mobile phone bill was in my sister’s name. This caused me a lot of stress as even the thought of any infringement struck a disproportionate level of fear into my mind. It left me at my wits’ end.

“The problem was eventually solved but the fear it engendered was an experience I couldn’t forget. Because of my experience with the system I do not claim any benefits now, despite being entitled to them.”

There are certain changes she thinks the Government should make including reducing the time it takes to pay universal credit as well as making the system much easier to access and to exit and return to work.

“I think that if you have claimed any benefits and returned to work, or have become sick or bereaved, you should immediately be paid the benefits you had been receiving. In my case all my benefits stopped the day my husband died and I was left with no income for nearly a month.”

She hopes the next Government will take poverty more seriously and prioritise helping those in need.

“I want to see the next Government prioritise supporting people who need help and this starts with changing the culture of our social security system. People need to be treated with compassion and understanding, not pushed into desperate situations.

“It’s time for us all to come together to make lasting change and end this injustice for good.”

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