While many people in Dundee opened presents under the tree this Christmas, others faced a bleak reality marked by poverty and “tough choices”.
For some, they have had to choose between eating or heating, the grim necessity of having to search down the back of the sofa to find pennies to buy a bottle of lemonade.
It’s the situation facing Lynn Strachan and her son Les McNamee during this festive season.
Lynn, a former cleaner and care assistant, has worked for most of her adult life but, like many who saw a change in circumstances this year, she’s been plunged into a “nightmare”.
Lynn wasn’t sure whether to share her story at first, but then invited the Tele to see what living “on the breadline” looks like at her home on Dunholm Terrace.
The 48-year-old contacted officers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after she became unemployed in November.
‘I don’t know where to turn’
Last month she received a £100 advance from the DWP but admitted that was gone and she was unaware accepting the money would impact on any forthcoming cash this month, which leaves her facing spending Christmas in poverty at her home in Dundee.
“I don’t know where to turn, we’ve got a Christmas tree up but it’s certainly not festive in this household, it’s a nightmare,” she said.
“I’m really at the stage where I can’t even afford to put the Christmas lights on the tree, we literally have nothing here.
“I’ve been on the phone to Universal Credit and one call handler will tell me I’m available for this and that and the next minute I’m being told there is nothing more for me.
“I received that money in November and that’s had an impact on me receiving any more cash and the situation is bleak at the moment, I’m embarrassed and ashamed at what’s happened to us.”
Lynn had also contacted Dundee City Council to apply for a community care grant which was also knocked back this week by text message.
‘The heating doesn’t work, we only have one electric heater’
The message from the Scottish Welfare Fund told her it was “unable to fit you into the qualifying criteria” before Lynn burst into tears.
She said: “Look around you in the flat, the heating doesn’t work, we have one electric heater which we move from room to room.
“Our gas was cut off and the radiators haven’t been working since December of last year anyway. We wash our clothes by hand in the kitchen sink, our rooms are covered in damp.
“There is no carpet in the hallway, I sleep on the sofa, we are literally living on the breadline here.
“I’ve worked most of my adult life, never the best paid jobs in the world, but I’ve worked and now I’ve no place else to turn.
“The DWP have knocked me back and I’ve been knocked back for a care grant now as well. I’ve invited you in here to show the dire situation we are in.
“This is no fake claim for help, this is me on my knees here showing you the deprivation we are living in.
“I want to show the DWP and the council if this situation doesn’t meet the criteria what does?
“This is no life for my son here and like any parent will tell you, my child comes first in this house.
“The one working heater will go into his room and likewise he will be the priority for any food that comes into this household.
“This week we were searching down the sofa to muster just 7p to try and have enough money together for a bottle of lemonade.
“We really have been facing some tough choices between food and electricity.
“I know I’ve already said it already but I’m ashamed that I’ve had to reach out to you to show you just how bad this has got.”
‘We will discuss options available to them’
A Dundee City Council spokeswoman said they would contact Lynn regarding her failed application.
She added: “We will contact this individual directly to discuss options available to them.
“Anyone who is experiencing financial hardship should contact the Council Advice Services Single Point of Contact on 01382 431188.
“We can discuss options including crisis grants, help from the Dundee Energy Efficiently Action Project, help with Universal Credit applications, and review applications for Community Care Grants.”
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed Lynn received funding in November before adding: “Universal Credit adjusts to a household’s earnings to ensure people receive the right level of support.
“Ms Strachan received earnings in November which exceeded the universal credit award amount.
“However, if she earns less over the next month then she will see an increase in her January benefits payment.”
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