Angus Silverstone, 58, claims he ate nothing for 47 days in order to draw attention to the hunger and other struggles faced by people on the government’s flagship new benefits system, Universal Credit.
Universal Credit replaces six social security benefits with a single monthly payment and has been blamed for plunging vulnerable into debt and hunger, with the UK’s leading food bank network Trussell Trust blaming the new system for soaring food bank demand.
New claimants have to wait a minimum of five weeks before receiving their first payment. Advances are available but these must be repaid through decuctions to future Universal Credit payments, trapping people in a cycle of debt.
Mr Silverstone, a former teacher with mobility issues caused by problems with his heart and lungs, as well as other health problems, says he took nothing but liquids for several weeks in protest against the Universal Credit scheme.
He told Leicestershire Live: “The DWP is killing people, this welfare system is killing people, our government is not listening and not acting. Where is the humanity in that?”
During the protest, Mr Silverstone said that he refused to “sit back” while poor people suffered at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), whilst also fighting his own battle with the DWP.
“There are people dying because of it and I won’t eat until someone listens to me”, he said.
“I refuse to sit back and let this happen, it’s inhumane and can’t continue.”
Mr SIlverstone finally ended his hunger strike after being moved to a ground-floor flat. His applications for Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments were reconsidered and arrears paid in full.
He said: “I could have gone on, and I wanted to for others but I wasn’t well.
“A friend of mine spoke with me and I came to the decision that I’d achieved what I set out to and decided I would stop the strike.
“My thoughts on Universal Credit and PIP remain the same but my health was being affected and I had to think about that. Luckily I was a bit overweight when I started.
“It all happened fairly quickly in the end, I was moved to the ground floor flat and received notification that I’d been reassessed and would be getting PIP and increased Universal Credit and it would be back paid as well.
“The flat is much better for me, it’s so much better for my health and I’ve been able to buy myself some clothes, I had one pair of jeans before and shoes that were worn through.
“Now I have a pair of decent shoes that mean I can walk a lot easier.”
A DWP spokesperson said there had not been in error with the assessment of Mr Silverstone’s claims for PIP and Universal Credit, but confirmed that arrears amounting to £4,400 had been paid after receiving new supporting evidence.
The spokesperson said: “After we received further information about his case, we have put in place PIP, increased the rate of his Universal Credit and paid him all arrears due.”
When asked what he had to eat when his hunger strike came to an end, Angus said: “Just plain rice. I didn’t want to have anything too much. I’m still getting my body used to eating food again.”