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 484.

    I had sympathy for this family until I read in detail what they spend their money on. I believe that a cut back on booze and tobacco products is a must. Then unsubscribe to sky. As a family, I am the only breadwinner and I have 5 children with my wife. We homeschool our children and as a result we do not have sky. You should be thankful for what you get and adjust your life style accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    Map man hit the nail on the head me and my partner both work and dont drink or smoke or have sky tv.they want entertainment do it the old fashion way go outside and play buy a compendium of games for rainy days job sorted

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    I don't smoke and I don't have Sky so they can go without aswell. And if you're on benefits then you should kiss goodbye to your mobile.
    I hope the cap goes through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    The fact that Ray feels justified in his explanation of why he needs the luxuries of lager every night, many cigarettes a day, Sky movies and mobile phones for children that will 'give him hell' if he tells them they can't afford them, shows how entrenched many people living on benefits such as him and his large family are. That's six children growing up feeling society owes them these things.

  • Comment number 480.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    You couldn't give a better example of dependency. This guy actually believes we should keep him in fags and beer. Will this government have the guts to step away bfrom the trough and bring on the cap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    So £18 on lager, £70 on cigarettes, £8 on tobacco, £32 mobile, £15 Sky, £20 pub that's a total of £163 a week, about £652 a month or £8476 a year on luxuries. If one family can save £8476, think how much would be saved if all of them spent their money on only the necessities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    So they'd lose £82.40 a week. Hmmm...what's this...24 lagers, 200 fags and the baccy add up to approx £92 per week. Chuck Sky instead and they can still smoke and drink sufficiently. MY HEART BLEEDS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    Easy. Lose the beer, cigarettes, tobacco, sky, mobiles and you're there (saves over £5,000 PA.). None of these items are essential. any money left over, spend on the kids (wisely). Re-skill and take pride in being able to provide for you and your family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    This is a very extreme family. But if a family of 8 can live off £26000 (and the comments here prove they can) then surely other families can too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    24 cans of lager and 200 cigarettes and sky TV. This man is living a life of luxury. While I refrain from buying all this things to get myself through the month, my taxes end up paying for these luxuries for somebody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Perhaps not spending between a quarter and a third of the weekly shopping budget on cigarettes, tobacco and lager would more than offset the effect of the proposed benefit cap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    People like this should be made to attend a central location for 7.5 hours a day, just like they would if they were in employment. Failure to attend = loss of entitlements. It would be interesting to see how long they lasted before they decided they would be better off improving their skills or taking any job at all which was on offer. Our politicians are too spineless for this however.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Is this family for real? My husband and I have a 3 year old and both work full time. We're lucky if we go out once a year, let alone once a week, nor do we have a fridge stocked with lager! Perhaps "Raymond" could consider retraining in another profession since by his own admission there is no longer a requirement for his skills. This family is the very essence of why Britain is broken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    The BBC are being economical with the truth in order to brand this family as "scroungers".

    They are not on £30k. Their benefits add up to £27955.20 pa. There is a difference.

    Prior to 2001 Raymond worked (and probably has since). It is not like he is a scrounger who has never worked.

    People commenting want to learn to read - his kids are teens, which means they were born prior to 2001!

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    The perfect example of how the benefits system supports feckless families. Sky TV, cigarettes, lager, mobiles. I'd like to see the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds explain how this household budgeting sustains children in their family life. Time to cut and cut hard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    This is ridiculous and highlights what's wrong with society. Fair enough his skills are no longer needed but what is stopping him going out and at least trying to get a different job? The benefits system makes it more desirable not to work, that's why.

    There are many hard working families that realise they can't afford sky tv or 24 cans of lager per week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    I like how not one of the benefits going into the diagram says: "Cigarettes, alcohol and Sky TV subsidy".

    None of those benefits are meant for any of those luxuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Quick calculation for 200 fags and 24 cans of lager on price comparison website = £82.05. Throw in the "tobacco pouch" and you're there. And you can keep your Sky TV (which as someone who's worked most of the last 25 years+ I can't actually afford).

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Don't forget that this is all tax free, so it is equivalent to someone earning about £40K or so - not to mention all the 'extra' free things you get for being on benefits.


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