DESPERATE Lynda Gilbert wrote a farewell message to her four young children, then left the house to take her own life.
In the note, the single mum blamed her plight on Universal Credit, the new benefit which left her so broke she had been reduced to trying to steal food to feed her family.
SWNS:South West News Service Desperate… Lynda with her baby son Prince-Jaylon and children Andre and Aliyah
From receiving £1,700 a month after her rent was paid, she was now reduced to just over £1,000.
Even worse, she was also in terrible debt because she had had to wait six long weeks without any income at all — the standard delay while new payments are sorted out.
Lynda, 37, planned to drive to a bridge before killing herself.
But as she sat in her car she thought of children Chloe-Jay, 14, Andre, eight, Aliyah, seven, and Prince-Jaylon, just 18 months old.
SWNS:South West News Service Financial fears… Lynda contemplated suicide
She returned home but the tears still flowed – as she still had no idea how to live.
Lynda said: “I was moments from ending it all because of the pressure the system put me under.
“I was shaking, I couldn’t take the poverty any more. Universal credit was killing my family.
“I was watering down the children’s milk, going to food banks so often that they stopped serving me.
SWNS:South West News Service Lynda said the Universal Credit delay left her family struggling to eat
“It was all down to Universal Credit. I had bailiffs at my door, I had a £2,500 water bill and owed £2,000 to the TV licence people. It seemed there was only one way out.
“I was only saved by the thought of the misery it would cause my kids.”
Last Sunday it was again her children who prompted her to write another note — this time to Prime Minister Theresa May.
She said: “I emailed to tell her I hoped she was enjoying her Sunday lunch because ours was two scrambled eggs and four bits of toast between four of us thanks to Universal Credit.”
AP Lynda wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May to tell of her family’s plight
Lynda, of Rugby, Warks, and her children are among the 600,000 families which have so far been shifted on to the controversial system, which is being rolled out gradually.
The idea is to incorporate six types of benefits into one single payment.
But because of delays, and because it is paid retrospectively for the month gone, rather than in advance, there is usually a six-week wait before the first payment. So far, a quarter of claimants have had to wait even longer.
Lynda went on to the new system in July last year — and still has nightmares about those first weeks.
PA:Press Association Changes to the benefits system has left families reliant on foodbanks
After exhausting her food bank entitlements — some food banks have seen demand rise by up to 179 per cent since the introduction of Universal Credit — she even tried crime.
The mum said: “I had pennies in the bank and the kids were starving. So one day I went to a supermarket and tried to shoplift £97 of food.
“I piled my trolley up with veg, fruit, biscuits, soup, ham and cheese but got caught as I walked out. I was humiliated and burst into tears.”
In November she pleaded guilty to theft but a judge made her pay just £20 surcharge as “there was no point” putting her further into debt.
SWNS:South West News Service Lynda resorted to shoplifting and was taken to court
In order to raise a tiny bit of money for food she sold her children’s Nintendo for £10 and her daughter’s hair straighteners for £5.
But she was still in £1,300 rent arrears, because of the delay in the benefit payment, on top of the other debts that had mounted up.
That is why in January she put baby Prince-Jaylon to bed, then set out to end it all at the bridge.
She said of the new system: “It’s pure evil and has stripped my family of our dignity. I would love for Theresa May to see my life.”
Before experiencing the new payment Lynda had supported a change to the system. She admitted: “I used to joke I was getting too much before. I could’ve lived on £300 less.
“I agree the system had to change but I never thought they would change it so drastically.”
Six benefits become one
UNIVERSAL Credit streamlines six traditional benefits into one system.
They are income support, jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit and child tax credit.
A single universal credit payment is paid directly into the claimants’ bank accounts to cover whichever benefits they are eligible for. Costs such as rent are then taken out.
It is being rolled out gradually across the country.
Since 2013, the system has been introduced to about five job centres a month, but from this month the rate will increase to about 50 a month.
Recently Lynda landed a job working 10am to 2pm at a Mothercare warehouse five days a week but says paying a childminder leaves her only marginally better off.
She said: “It’s depressing to think I would be almost as well off if I was sitting around doing no work but I don’t trust this new system. It was destroying my family.
“The other day my kids ate bacon for the first time in weeks. They were so happy.
“It broke my heart. They’re so used to having nothing now that a rasher of bacon is a luxury to them.”
SWNS:South West News Service Lynda says her love for her kids kept her going
Lynda’s story comes after MPs heaped pressure on the PM this week to cut the waiting time for payments from six weeks to four.
But today The Sun on Sunday can also reveal that newly appointed MPs on £74,000-a-year only have to wait THREE weeks for their first pay packet and can be given housing costs within DAYS.
Meanwhile, because of debt accrued during their waiting time, the average family switched to Universal Credit ends up in £1,178 of rent arrears.
Reuters DWP secretary David Gauke
Yesterday, the sister of a man who died while waiting for his payments says her brother spent his last days hungry and in fear due to debt accrued during the delays.
Chris Gold, 61, of Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset, died of a stroke in July just days after speaking to the media about the delays.
He said at the time: “I feel like I’ve been hung out to dry. I’m not eating — it just makes you feel ill all the time.”
Chris’s sister Heather said: “I am angry. He knew that he was going to lose everything. He looked like a ghost on legs.”
North News and Pictures Brian and Shelley Watson have been waiting eight weeks for credit and have a new baby to feed
Shelley Watson, 34, and partner Brian Douglass, 27, were expecting a baby as they waited eight weeks for the payments they were entitled to.
The couple from Walker, Newcastle, who now have seven-week-old daughter Rosahlea, owe £1,000 in rent arrears and £500 in loans to Brian’s family.
Shelley said: “Universal Credit is a shambles, it’s making life harder.
“It will be difficult for us to pay back the £1,000 rent arrears. It’s costing £40 a month just for baby milk. Then you have got nappies, baby wipes, food, bills on top.”
At the Pecan food bank in Peckham, South East London, the number of young families using them for their essentials because of Universal Credit is up 179 per cent.
Chris Price, executive director, said: “My staff and volunteers are in tears when they hear the stories. This system is not working.”
Theresa May holds crisis talks with Tory MPs to halt Universal Credit revolt
This week the PM defended the scheme as a “simpler” system that “makes sure work pays”.
Earlier this month she was forced to announce that the 55p-a-minute phone helpline for Universal Credit would be free in future.
More than 135,000 people have signed an online petition to stop the payment system while the problems are sorted out.
Distraught Sylvana Ahmed, 21, told The Sun on Sunday she waited five weeks for her first payment.
�Chris Balcombe – The Sun Sylvana Ahmed is looking for work and has been struggling financially
The jobseeker, who lives in Southampton with her sister Sarama, 18, has received just £251.77 since switching in September, down from £1,200 a month under the old system.
Sylvana said: “I don’t know what to do or how we will survive.”
Toni Atkinson, 18, from Newcastle, is seven months’ pregnant.
She, partner Anthony Gilchrist and his two children had to live on £150 while waiting more than four weeks for new payments.
North News and Pictures Young couple Anthony and Toni have waited four weeks for Universal Credit
Unemployed van driver Anthony, 25, said: “It’s embarrassing but we are going to a food bank. We have to save our baby.”
Last night a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions insisted the system is working.
He added: “Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives. People are moving into work faster and staying in work longer.
“No one who needs support should have to wait six weeks. That’s why advance payments are available to new claimants.
“The vast majority of claimants tell us they are comfortable managing their money.”