Benefit families speak out

Mobile phone, tinned food, housing, gas

As MPs resume their debate on the Welfare Reform Bill - the government wants to cap benefits claimed by families to £26,000 a year - we look at one family that may be affected by the changes.

Unemployed father-of-seven Raymond (not his real name) and his family rent a former council house on a social housing estate in north Wales. They do not own a car or take a regular annual holiday.

Start Quote

I see eight people here having to choose between eating or heating”

End Quote Raymond

Raymond, a former educational software writer, has been jobless since 2001. His wife Katherine suffers from bipolar disorder with an anxiety disorder and is unable to work.

Ray says: "The market for my skills dried up 10 years ago - there's a total lack of work in my area of expertise."

The couple share their home with six of their children - their five-year-old son, Raymond's twin girls from his first marriage, and three of his wife's four children from an earlier relationship.

Here we break down the benefits Raymond and his family receive - and detail where the money goes. Click on the grey boxes to see what Raymond says about their outgoings.

Clickable flowchart of a families income and outgoings on benefits
  • Living on benefits
  • Weekly income and outgoings for a family of eight in north Wales
  • Child Benefit £87.30
  • Child Tax Credit £301.10
  • Jobseekers Allowance £100.00
  • Council Tax Benefit £18.00
  • Housing Benefit £76.00
  • Total: £582.40
  • Annual breakdown
  • Benefits: £30,284.80
  • Proposed cap: £26,000*
  • Difference: £4,284.80
  • *If Lords amendments are overturned

Other outgoings £91

'There are four children to supply school uniforms - including gym kits - each year. The school trips aren't days out to Alton Towers - they're educational trips for several of the courses, like history, geography and media studies, that the school tells us will form an important part of their course. Then there are seven birthdays a year, and seven children to make Christmas happen for each year.'

Entertainment £20

'I go out once a week, on a Friday night. I meet up with my mates in the pub and have three or four pints.'

Sky TV £15

'We get the Sky Movies package because we're stuck in the house all week - otherwise we wouldn't have any entertainment.'

Public transport £30

'Most of this goes on our eldest son's bus fares to college and back. For me, if it's less than five miles, I'll walk.'

Mobiles £32

'My wife and I have mobile phones, and so do all of the teenage children. You try telling teenagers they're going to have to do without their mobiles and there'll be hell to pay.'

Energy bill £38

'Gas and electricity bills have gone up massively over the last couple of years - two years ago we were paying £20 a week. If they do cut our benefit we are going to have to choose between eating and heating the house properly.'

Rent £76

'This is social housing in Wales, so the rent is hardly massive. If we rented privately in this area, then the cost would be four or five times as much.'

Weekly shopping £240

'Our biggest expense. We do all our shopping at Tesco or Morrisons in one big go. Mostly we buy the "value" range - tinned meatballs, baked beans etc. On the cigarettes, my wife tried to give up, but she missed one appointment on the course and they threw her off it.'

Ray, 45, says: "I would love to be able to say that we are living in one of these eight-bedroom mansions that everyone is up in arms about, but no, we are stuck in a three-up, two-down house that has external measurements of barely 19ft by 25ft.


  • From April 2013, household benefits capped so out-of-work families do not receive more than the average household weekly income.
  • Limit set at £26,000 a year - equivalent to household wage of £500 a week after tax
  • Includes Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit
  • Exemptions for households in receipt of Working Tax Credit, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, Constant Attendance Allowance and war widows/widowers
  • Welfare Reform Bill applies to England, Scotland and Wales

"We have three teenage boys living in one room that barely fits their bunks and a chair-bed in it and two teenage daughters in a smaller room that barely fits their bunks in it.

"In the third bedroom we have ourselves and a five-year-old boy."

The family receive a total of £30,284.80 a year in benefits - well over the £26,000 cap proposed by the government. But, says Raymond, "If these proposals go through we will take a massive hit to our finances - and it's not as if we could move into a smaller or cheaper premises.

"I see eight people here having to choose between eating or heating."



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  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I notice that the family can find enough money to budget for Sky TV though. Some full-time workers cannot afford that - me included!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Even as someone who doesn't agree with the benefit cap, and disikes the press & government maligning of benefit clamaints, this article it a total joke. Are we meant to have sympathy for this man or his situation? Booze, fags, pub, Sky TV, several mobile phones? Give up these things, and "eating and heating" won't be an issue. I can't belive he thinks he's hard done by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    This is ridiculous that 'Raymond' just expects all this to be given to him and doesn't even consider the people who aren't on benefits who cannot afford to go to the pub once a week, have sky movies, smoke 200/week and drink 24/week.

    I feel lucky not to be in that situation, but the reason I am is because I work hard for it, and paying for people like this with my taxes is infuriating!

  • Comment number 81.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    BBC are you actually trying to wind up your fee payers? I work full time commute 2 hours 20 minutes a day. I have 140 quid a week to spend on all my outgoings other than rent and bills.

    I WORK. And these people are better off than me and have had 7 KIDS. Lager, cigs, and Sky TV are NOT essentials. To be even remotely pushing this as a sob story shows just how out of touch the BBC is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I get a nice warm feeling knowing that my taxes are going to such a worthy cause. It never ceases to amaze me why people persist in producing babies and then whine about not being able to make ends meet!....Must go now and take my anti-hypertensives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    An unmentioned point here is that should Raymond get a job, then a lot of those benefits will stop and he will be worse off still. There is no point in looking for a job if the benefits systems looks after you better than getting a job would. Isnt that the real issue.

    That and as everyone points out 200 cigarettes, sky tv and mobile contracts for everyone...

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    £500 a week for doing nothing. Beggars belief. Not a hint of shame on the unneccessary spending on fags/booze/sky. I just cant believe it - dont any of the kids work - ie saturday jobs, waiting tables - must be something. This country makes it too easy for the workshy,

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    36. fredkeys. You are going to let this lazy prat continue to sit on his arse for another 10 years? Stop protecting people who don't even try to help themselves. Are you that much of a sucker dor a sob story? With 10 years of free time you have no excuse for not doing something with your life. He deserves nothing. I feel sorry for his kids and the life message they have been growing up with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Game over Raymond! Cigarettes, booze, Sky TV, wife needs to go to the local market and stock up on fresh potatoes, veg, bananas, fruit at half the cost of Morrisons & co. This is it BBC you have stuck this up as an example of the wicked government doing nasty things to poor people look at the reaction from the public ?? We have no sympathy with this person find a better example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Quick check, 200 ciggies - £64. 24 cans lager £10, sky £15.... so cut these out and they are £7 per week better off without even cutting out mobiles and the pouch of baccy!! Clearly the system is having a waste product extracted from it. That is £4600 of my tax he is drinking and smoking at watching (plus cost of electric for TV).


  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    30 bonyknees

    "This is very sad. Raymond's just given up, hasn't he?"

    Given up? Given bloody up? Raymond is having the time of his life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    It's hard to empathise with Raymond, when, like me, you have been made redundant 3 times in 20 years, once while in Australia. The only option was to relocate my family back to the UK to find work. In order to make ends meet I did ANY job that came my way. I don't smoke or use Sky. Freeview for me.
    Whatever happened to the proud working class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Unbelievable! We're funding a smoking habit to the tune of at least £70 a week? Plus all the other frivolous luxuries - including Sky movies? What's wrong with plain old Freeview TV? I'm not really surprised about the sentiment of (probably all) the posts here. This is why the government is quite rightly clamping down on this sort of thing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    This makes me so angry and shows the problem with our country. After I have been taxed, they get more than double what I earn. There are so many things that they don't need, beer, fags, sky MOVIES?!?!?! All the teenagers having mobiles should be for their own account, get a saturday job. Just because educational software isnt as popular, sure same development techniques used and will earm him ££

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Sky, booze, cigs etc. Say no more...

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    It's not going to be difficult to point out where the £83 could be saved.

    Several questionable life choices: fags, booze & 6 children.

    But I find it difficult to see an instant solution to get this family productive rather than just cheaper. Real intervention is needed to help them be psychologically ready & working and I can't see where the support is coming from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    In my opinion people have become lazy. Get out there and do a job any job - There a plently of jobs out there - some people feel they are too precious to be a street cleaner!

    Benefit cheats costing us over 80 billion a year are worse than RBS boss!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    One biased example, so what?
    Find a family that doesn't have Sky TV (presume they pay a TV licence fee too btw), or smokes /drinks so much and their rent is higher than this, and you'll get a set of different comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Instead of watching sky movies, why doesnt he get a free view box with basically the same channels, and/or play with your kids instead of watching tv? and dont get me started on the beer and fags!! l wish l got 26K per year. If there is no jobs in your expertise, then get another job!! so frustrating reading this! ...and oh why not stop having kids if you cant support them??


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