THE first person in Inverness to claim universal credit will declare himself bankrupt this week.
Les Ross says he has only 24p in his bank account and does not know where his next meal will come from.
The 51-year-old revealed his woes as a local petition to halt a national roll-out the new benefit system reached almost 10,000 signatures and a day of action was held in Inverness, Nairn and Aviemore following a summit in Merkinch, where worried claimants voiced their concerns.
Mr Ross went on to universal credit – which replaces six benefits with a single payment – when it was trialled in the city in 2013 and quickly racked up rent arrears because his payments were frozen.
He was only on benefits for a short time before getting a job in Tesco but suffered a breakdown a year ago and went back on to universal credit.
Despite already selling most of his belongings, Mr Ross was not able to cover the rent for his Hilton home as he received no money for six weeks after applying. He now receives around £269 per month but said some months it was less, with no explanation.
After money is taken out to pay back rent arrears and an alleged overpayment of tax credits from 10 years ago, Mr Ross is left with next to no money for food and bills.
He said: "It’s different every month.
"I don’t know what I’m going to get so I can’t budget, then when I do get paid it’s not enough.
"I have an appointment to make myself bankrupt purely as a consequence of this.
"I have literally nothing to live on. I haven’t eaten today and I don’t know when I’ll eat again – that’s the reality of it."
Mr Ross has had to sell most of his belongings to try to stay afloat and now has only 24p in the bank.
"Everything I worked so hard to pay for when I was working is gone now, I sold it all," he said.
"Without the help of my family I wouldn’t still be here, I can’t afford to live.
"I won’t get any more money until the 16th but I have 24p in the bank, that is my life.
"I have a lot of clothes from when I did work but they’re all too big for me, they’re falling off me.
"I have to put bags inside my boots to keep my feet dry because there’s no money for new ones."
The only silver lining for Mr Ross came in March when an animal lover saw his plight when it was previously covered by the Inverness Courier.
The reader was so upset to read about Mr Ross’s plight, he donated bags of dog food for his border collie, Cass.
Mr Ross said: "It has been such a hard time but I was so touched when that man came with all the dog food.
"It was such a thoughtful thing to do and we’ve been good friends ever since.
"I was nervous about telling my story in the paper but it ended up helping, it was a silver lining which wouldn’t have happened without the Courier’s article."
When Mr Ross told his story at the summit, many people in the audience were reduced to tears.
Drew Hendry – SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey – organised the summit and a day of action campaigning in the streets.
He said Mr Ross’s case showed the real-life impact of universal credit.
"Les shared his truly harrowing story and I know many of the attendees were both shocked and moved by what he said.
"His story is a very real illustration of the devastating effects of this roll-out.
"I would urge anyone in the government who thinks the system is working to pay attention to his story."
Mr Hendry was overwhelmed by the response to the day of action, which was held with the city branch of the SNP, and included a food bank collection and a petition to stop the benefit roll-out, which was introduced Highland-wide in July.
He said: "This support really demonstrates how lucky we are in the Highlands that folk will stand shoulder to shoulder with their friends and neighbours who are experiencing the devastating effects of this Tory benefit disaster."
The SNP’s Phillipa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) has secured a 10-minute Rule Bill calling for the benefit system to be made fairer and, if successful, it could become law.
The bill, to be heard on November 27, calls for the minimum six-week wait for the first payment to be reduced to one month, as well as twice-monthly payments instead of monthly. She also wants to see the payments split between individuals, instead of one payment per household, to help people in controlling or abusive relationships.
The Department of Work and Pensions insists that universal credit helps get people back into work.