Benefits Street’s Fungi says he’s living in ‘hell’ after Universal Credit is HALVED

Benefits Street star Fungi has hit out at Universal Credit after claiming his monthly payments were cut by more than half.

James Clarke, whose nickname is Fungi, has dubbed Universal Credit a ‘”nightmare” and “the worst thing in the world”.

The TV documentary star says he had been claiming £500 a month, but says his payments have gone down to £229.

James claims the reasons for his payments being slashed have not been explained to him, Birmingham Live reports.

James called the phased introduction of the all-in-one benefit “hell” for himself and other people experiencing difficult times.

And he said if he wasn’t well known, things would have been even worse for him.

Benefits Street aired in 2014 and tracked the lives of benefits claimants living on James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham

James, 50, said: “It’s causing me a hell of a lot of stress. I have to top up the gas and electric and buy food and there’s nothing left after that.

“If it wasn’t for who I am and people recognising me and giving me a few quid to get by, I would be back in jail now. I’d be stealing to survive.

“I know people in Moseley and if I get really hungry I go down there and they give me a free meal.

“If I went there starving to one of the shops they would give me food straight away.

“Because people know me they give me a couple of quid here and there, it’s not much, but it helps me survive.

“What am I meant to do with £230 a month? I know I’d be back in jail without it.

“I live in a shared house and a couple of people I live with are in exactly the same situation.”

James, who lives with his girlfriend, Kerrie Tarbuck, 40, told Birmingham Live he has a drink problem for which he is receiving support from his doctor.

The couple, who have been together for eight months, drink three one-litre bottles of Frosty Jacks cider between them a day, he says.

But James says they have cut down since they met by chance when they passed each other in Moseley.

The couple live in sheltered accommodation in Kings Heath and rent is paid for them through a separate state payment to James’s Universal Credit, claimed through Selly Oak Jobcentre Plus after attending an hour-long assessment.

James called himself an “alcoholic” but said he has been clean of drugs for more than four years.

James said: “I’m an alcoholic, all I’ve done is swap one for another, but I’d rather have the drink than that stuff.

“I can’t work because I drink every day, as soon as I wake up I start drinking.

“I’ve been offered work on building sites and that. I can’t do that. If I fell down and had an accident they’d be responsible. My doctor has signed me off as unfit to work.

“We drink three one-litre bottles between us a day, which is £1.79 a bottle.

“We’ve cut down on eight months ago, before I was drinking so much it was unreal.

“I can’t take medication but my doctor has told me to cut down, which I have.

“I don’t get drunk; I can’t. I wish I could get drunk.”

The dad-of-one described Kerrie, who suffers from epilepsy, as a stabilising influence.

Kerrie also claims benefits.

James, who has grown a beard since his time on the show, said: “She’s very pretty, very nice. We are stable. When she puts her foot down and says do something I do it.

“The only thing that’s a nightmare is the Universal Credit, it’s the worst thing in the world.

“There will be people in jail and people homeless because of it.

“I know people who have got kids and they’re struggling, they are having to go to foodbanks.

“They are going through hell.

“One family I know they were getting £1,200 now they’re down to £500.

“A family with four kids is having to go to foodbanks. I have to say respect to the foodbanks for that.”

Benefits Street divided opinion when it aired on Channel 4.

James failed to profit from his fame, however, and in October 2016 he was sleeping rough under Birmingham’s Chinese Pagoda and drinking 10 cans of super-strength cider and lager a day.

But he quit drugs after a stranger who saw him on TV paid £11,500 to put him through rehab.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are sorry to hear Mr Clarke is experiencing difficulties.

“If he contacts his Jobcentre, staff can explain his payments and check he is receiving the correct amounts.

“Universal Credit is a force for good for many, and over 1.4 million people are successfully receiving the benefit.”