A RETIRED nurse who had to choose between paying her bills and food is calling for change following research showing 4.8 million people in the UK are too poor to afford essential home appliances.

Sheena Stephenson came to live in Newton Aycliffe in 2012 after she lost her rented bungalow in Newcastle following the loss of her job at the Children’s Heart Unit at Freeman Hospital.

The 63-year-old was unable to work due to her crippling back pain caused by a slipped disc.

At the time, she was also forced to file for bankruptcy after lending money to a family member who did not pay her back.

Ms Stephenson said: “I was devastated when I came to Newton Aycliffe all I had was a freezer, sofa and a bed. I went from being a paediatric nurse for 30 years to having to keep milk and food in a bucket of cold water which had to be changed twice a day. I even had to go to bed at 3pm in the afternoon to keep warm.

Ms Stephenson was in dire straits until she was told about the Turn2us charity which provides information and support about welfare benefits and charitable grants.

Through the charity Ms Stephenson received a washing machine, carpets, a cooker, blinds and a new bed.

She believes the changes to welfare policy since 2010 have significantly affected appliance poverty.

The newly released research highlights the single biggest erosion of help came in 2013 with the abolition of the Social Fund which previously provided much-needed support.

Turn2us is therefore campaigning for a new local welfare assistance scheme to be developed and introduced as well as seeking funds to help change lives.

Ms Stephenson said she would encourage families struggling to get in touch with Turn2us as she fears for other people living in her situation following the recent election, she said: “Those in Government after the re-election probably couldn't even tell you the cost of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. They need see how people on benefits really live.

"When people move in to rented accommodation the housing associations and councils should leave the appliances left by previous tenants as some people have nothing and I think in the future a lot more families will struggle."

For more information about the charity visit turn2us.org.uk