A Tory MP was moved to tears during a debate on the controversial Universal Credit benefit reform as she heard how one claimant felt “lucky” his family was invited to eat food leftover at a funeral.
Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire and a vocal critic of the overhaul, responded to a heartbreaking account of the effect the policy has had.
Veteran Labour MP Frank Field told the Commons on Tuesday that at a recent constituency surgery he needed to persuade a man not to take his own life after Universal Credit left him destitute.
Recounting the meeting, Field, who sits alongside Allen as chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “I’ve done surgeries for 38 years. On my last surgery on Friday, for the first time ever, a gentleman rose after we’ve spoken and I’d tried to persuade him not to commit suicide.
“And I realised the hand that shook my hand was wet. He’d been crying. The hand that shook my hand was the hand that wiped away those tears.”
During his eight-minute speech, Field relayed the story of a family who, despite last year donating to an appeal for toys and food for those in need, were this year in need of support. “Their child cries with hunger,” Field said.
He added that 146 Department for Work and Pensions staff will this weekend assemble “thousands upon thousands” of Christmas parcels for those in need in his Birkenhead constituency.
“They know where this benefit is going, and they are unhappy,” Field said.
In a further example, Field said that Feeding Birkenhead, a local foodbank, had relayed the story of a family who attended a funeral service for food.
“The father said it had had a lucky week,” Field recounted. “Because neighbours had taken pity and invited them to a funeral so they could finish off the food once the other funeral-goers had been fed.”
Allen’s criticism of Universal Credit from the Tory backbenches has been credited with helping to force through changes to the policy announced at the recent Budget.
Watch her response, above.
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and ROI (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Monday-Friday 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.