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Mum on universal credit felt 'powerless' watching her children cry as they were made homeless

A single mother on universal credit has struggled with feeling like a failure as she was made homeless when the property she was renting was turned into an Airbnb

Johanna Lapsley and children

Johanna Lapsley and her two children, who were forced to move away from their beloved home on the Isle of Lewis. Image: Supplied

Johanna Lapsley worries constantly about her family ending up homeless again. She is barely able to survive on universal credit as a single mother of two young daughters, and if her rent went up she would not cope. 

“I’ve never felt such a failure in my whole life,” she says. “I’m not in a financial situation to buy a house and pay for a mortgage. I just felt so powerless watching my children cry, because they missed their home, and trying to explain to them why we weren’t allowed to live in the house anymore.

“They are primary school age and learning that some people own houses and some people rent, and it’s technically not theirs but they are allowed to live there. 

“My oldest child struggles with anxiety. She’s been through a lot in her short life. My greatest worry is that my landlord will put my rent up, and then we would be homeless again. I just pray every day that it won’t go up. I have hardly any money left over. I prioritise my children. I pay my bills.

“But we don’t have any disposable income. We don’t go on holiday. I can only afford one treat a month for my children. Last month that was two scoops of ice cream for £4.30. This is all I can afford for my children. This is their life.” 

Johanna was a social worker but she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome – a serious, long-term illness which leaves people facing extreme tiredness and often unable to work. She split from her children’s partner in 2015 and moved out to the Isle of Lewis with her two daughters, who are now 12 and 10, where they had a lovely and peaceful life. 

But her landlord sold the property in 2018 and it was turned into an Airbnb. Johanna could not find anywhere affordable to rent in the area, and they were put on a waiting list for a council home. They were homeless and had to move into temporary council accommodation. 

Johanna has had to explain to her daughters that some people are lucky to own a home and others have to rent. Image: Supplied

“It was somewhere to live,” Lapsley  says. “But it was known as the homeless house. The neighbours didn’t really interact with us. There was a stigma attached to living there. Possessions are just material things but when you’re sitting on a sofa or sleeping in a bed that’s not yours, it’s a strange feeling. 

“I thought: ‘My children’s life is here. They love where they live and they love their school.’ It can be very unsettling for them to move. I know lots of parents have jobs where they have to move. But that’s more of a choice. This wasn’t a choice. I was trying to make the best out of a circumstance that was not our choice.”



Eventually, 18 months ago, Lapsley had to move back to mainland Scotland, to Falkirk where she has family. She found a two-bedroom house for £750 a month, which is not big enough for them and more than they can afford, but it’s somewhere to live. For a months afterwards, her children would ask if they would be forced to move out of there too. 

The housing element of universal credit leaves Lapsley with a shortfall of £250 to cover herself each month. And she is far from alone – the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust have found that nine in 10 universal credit claimants are having to sacrifice essentials like food and toiletries because they can’t afford to survive each month. 

“I haven’t had to use a food bank yet,” Lapsley says, “but I had to get rid of my car. I don’t qualify for a bus pass and if I was to get the bus from where I live four miles into the town centre, that would cost me £7.50. I couldn’t afford to insure my car. That was the reality.”

It is her 46th birthday this month, but Lapsley won’t be celebrating. She just can’t afford it, particularly as the winter approaches. They made it through last winter, and that gives her hope for this time around. But the constant worry is that her rent will go up again and her family will be made homeless once more. 

Lapsley contacted The Big Issue to show her support for its End Housing Insecurity Now campaign, urging the government to protect nine million low-income private renters. The campaign demands that universal credit is reformed so that people can afford the essentials, the Renters Reform Bill is brought into law and local housing allowance rates are unfrozen. 

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

Johanna Lapsely contacted The Big Issue to tell her story. Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

Support the Big Issue

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