AN emergency meeting is to be held in Strabane to tackle the “scourge” of Universal Credit.
Called for by independent councillor, Paul Gallagher the date and venue for the gathering has yet to be confirmed, however it is anticipated that all local charities and community groups will be invited to attend.
The proposed event comes after a Strabane man’s plight was highlighted earlier this month whereby he was “basically starving,” as he had to wait up to six weeks for benefits.
Unfortunately, according to Cllr Gallagher, Jonathan Doherty’s story is just the tip of the iceberg locally. He explained that just this week alone, he is working with five families who find themselves in financial crises.
Furthermore, another community activist, Teresa Stewart relayed the predicament of a local couple in their 60s who have recently moved onto Universal Credit.
According to Ms Stewart, they have not received a single penny in payment since the claim was submitted on August 5. She explained that they are currently dependent on the Strabane foodbank as well as handouts from family and friends.
“I’m planning on calling this meeting because I feel there is a need for us to come together on this,” explained Cllr Gallagher. “There are numerous groups in Strabane, charities like St Vincent de Paul, CHILD as well as the community sector; we need a joint approach to the emergency and collectively we might have more strength.”
He continued, “This town is coming down with people who simply do not have enough to eat. Life is crashing for them. It’s a crying shame.
“The new system of Universal Credit – it’s a scourge – and it has a six week wait for benefits. It’s as if the authorities are saying, ‘who cares?’
“We don’t want it to get to the stage where people are laying on street corners with no homes to go to, but that’s what things could come to.”
Teresa Stewart added, “The Universal Credit System is causing so much pressure, stress and mental anguish never mind financial hardship to so many people that don’t know where they can turn to for support. Not enough people seem to care that it could be them next.”
It is anticipated that the meeting will be hel in the coming weeks. The venue has yet to be confirmed.