BENEFIT changes are driving jobless people in South Tyneside to the brink of suicide, Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has warned.
Mr Hepburn revealed he had recently met two people contemplating suicide within a few days of each other.
One of them, a man, had just been discharged from hospital after swallowing 60 tablets in an attempt to kill himself.
The other, a woman, told him she thought daily about taking her own life because of her struggles with benefits.
That led to Mr Hepburn alerting several agencies and asking them to keep an eye on the woman.
His stark warning comes as one South Tyneside clergyman reports on a drastic rise in the number of food parcels being distributed in the borough.
Mr Hepburn claims recent legislation, such as the so-called bedroom tax and other benefit changes, are driving people to despair.
He said: “I have never known such a terrible time for people on benefits. It seems worse than the Thatcher years.
“I met this man and woman within a few days of each other, and both were contemplating suicide because of problems with their benefits.
“A woman told me she was thinking of taking her own life, and just two days later, I met a man who was just out of hospital after taking 60 tablets while in a state of despair.
“Basically, people right at the bottom, who cannot get a job and are on benefits, are getting hammered.
“Both these people want to work, but there’s little or nothing on offer in the local jobcentre.”
Mr Hepburn added: “People are dealing with the bedroom tax or are disabled and are being told they have to work or are coping with some of the many other benefit changes introduced by this Tory-led Government.
“I have never known it so bad that I have had to meet two people talking about committing suicide inside one week.
“It feels like we are going backwards to the days of the Poor Laws.”
Mr Hepburn has asked the relevant agencies to help the two constituents he met over the last week.
The Reverend Roy Merrin, of Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, also believes that some people on benefits are under “extreme pressure”.
He said organisers of the food bank run by Churches Together in South Tyneside have recently noticed a significant rise in demand.
Mr Merrin said: “Throughout last year as a whole, a total of 534 food parcels were distributed in South Tyneside, but a total of 320 parcels have already been given out in just the first four months of this year.
“If those figures are translated throughout the rest of the year, the demand is going to be significantly higher.
“These are proven statistics, and there is pressure on some people, partly because of changes to the benefits system.
“I know from people coming to the church that they are experiencing difficulties because of the tightening-up of benefit regulations.”