09/01/2019 10:51 GMT | Updated 09/01/2019 14:13 GMT

HuffPost UK Readers Save Christmas For Mum Left Penniless By Universal Credit 5-Week Delay

Something amazing happened after we published Joanne Harrison's harrowing story.

On Christmas Eve, HuffPost UK published a heart-wrenching story about a single mum facing the festive season penniless because her benefit payments had been stopped due to Universal Credit.

Joanne Harrison, from Leeds, was one of many who had an agonising five-week wait for money over the Christmas period. In her case, this came after she was forced to apply for the government’s landmark new benefit in December.

The 43-year-old bravely revealed how she was unable to buy her son and grandson, who she is legal guardian for, any Christmas presents and that she was relying on food parcels from her local foodbank to feed her family.

When HuffPost UK spoke to Joanne the day before her story went online, she told us she had been living on beans and toast so the kids, aged 13 and five, could at least have proper a meal each day.

But within hours of publishing the story, something amazing happened.

Emails came into HuffPost UK’s news room from people who wanted to donate money to the single mum, to help her through the Christmas period.

Within 24 hours, Joanne had received £500 from well wishers. The cash was enough to buy the boys Christmas presents. And it has also allowed the family to eat relatively normally in the weeks since.

Another anonymous donor has also offered to pay off Joanne’s debts of £3,000 in order to help her get back on a stable footing once her Universal Credit payments eventually begin on January 17.

Thanking HuffPost UK’s readers for their generosity, Joanne said: “I was overwhelmed to be honest, I just couldn’t believe it.

“I told my son about what had happened and he was just amazed. He said there’s just some really kind people out there you know.

“I want to say thank you and let the people know they made it possible for us to have a nice Christmas. I thought it would be totally different to the point where I was crying about it before Christmas, but thankfully it didn’t turn out like that.” 

The single mum had run into the red mainly due to payday loans and is receiving support from the debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP).

Emma Youle for HuffPost UK
Joanne's almost empty fridge as she moved into five weeks without benefit payments

Readers were touched by Joanne’s description of the difficulties she was facing trying to find money for everyday things – such as paying her son’s bus fare to school each day. 

One of the readers who gave Joanne money, and asked not to be named, said: “What struck me most about Joanne’s story was her anxiety about her son being wet from the rain during the school day because she couldn’t afford to give him a bus fare, and her children not having enough to eat.

“I know there are many others in a similar position, but having read her story, I wanted to help a fellow mum with a small gesture of solidarity, which would hopefully make her feel that someone cared and that would allow her to keep her head above water for a few weeks.

“I am so glad to hear that it contributed to Joanne being able to buy some decent food and presents over Christmas.”

While Joanne has been bowled over by the kind-hearted donations, she remains critical of government policy that left her facing a Christmas without any money.

She has echoed widespread criticism of the five-week delay in payments when claimants apply for Universal Credit.

“It shouldn’t be this way,” she said. “I just don’t know how they expect people who have got no savings and stuff to get through it.”

The wait has been criticised as unnecessary and it is feared the divisive policy is driving some of the poorest and most vulnerable benefit claimants further into poverty.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims the delay is needed to process applications and carry out checks, and has stood firm by the system. 

But when quizzed in the House of Commons this week, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd hinted the five-week wait could be scrapped, suggesting she would discuss the move with the Chancellor.