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 504.

    24 cans ans 200 cigarettes a week! And Sky movies! Such a waist of money that's not yours. There are much cheaper ways of entertaining the family.

    £32 a week on mobiles! The more I read the more I laugh. I use an old phone and put on £10 every 3 weeks or so.

    I love the fact that he till thinks he's hard done by.

    He's having a laugh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    I've been out of work before and had to live in rented property with little to live on and I'm struggling understand the thought process.
    When money was tight, Sky was cancelled, mobile phones went pay as you go and weren't used, going out was a treat maybe once a month never mind weekly and booze and fags - you've got be kidding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    No sympathy, actually find it outrageous that Sky TV, cans of lager and cigarettes are something that benefits money goes towards - when did they become essentials?

    And jobless since 2001, because the market for his skills dried up 10 years ago. Is he too busy watching movies to try a different career or do some training?

  • Comment number 501.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    Reading this makes me angry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    And we wonder why we have problems in our society!

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    If they didn't waste the money on alcohol, tobacco, mobile phone contracts, sky tv, etc. Then in a fairly short time they would have enough money saved up to start up their own business in something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    I have been out of work for 6 years now, a combination of years of disability discrimination in the work place and eventual redundancy to escape the mental torture.
    Employers are not prepared to understand the nature of my clinically diagnosed disability, and make the accommodations i need to enable me to work.
    I desperately want a job, but I am not going to put up with disability discrimination

  • Comment number 496.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    re 257 In addition to my earlier comment, consider that I have been working for over 30 years and have no children. I could moan about paying for all you other employed peoples' kids education and child benefit through my taxes but I'm not, so why are so many of the employed complaining about people on benefits when we all know there are no real jobs available!

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    I could never afford children so its pretty depressing seeing how this lot are laughing at me whilst living off my taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    This story sounds well dodgy! JSA after 10 years he wouldnt even qualify for it with 6 kids and a disabled wife how would he be available for work? He would have to be actively seeking as well and prove it.Sounds like someone is telling porkies.Julian Joyce did you check all this with the DWP? i doubt it. Dont approve of benefit cheats or wasters they give those that need it a bad name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Guys, I don't smoke, drink, take aways are a luxury never mind things like clothes and haircuts, this is an extreme situation, yes i get my rent paid for me but I am not responsible for high rent charges, apart from that I get £65 a week for myself, my son gets small grant for Uni & both him and my daughter gets their fees paid (as do all Scots) . BBC only showing one situation, disappointed BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    This just makes the govt's case for them. My tax is paying for his beer, fags, sky and mobile.

    Ed would you like to comment on the hypocrisy of that (BTW why wasnlt he forced to apologise for using same word as Cameron?????)

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    Raymond is a great example of why benefits need to be linked to housing is Ray living the life of Riley but then his rent is less than four thousand a year - so he has lots to spend on luxury items like additional children, Sky, fags n booze.

    Ray could do with a 20 grand cap....

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    The amazing thing is he does not think there is anything wrong with spending taxpayers money on booze and fags ! Also why should he be getting £100 per week jobseekers allowance when he is clearly not looking for work ?. He has had 10 years to retrain, I suggest he gets his backside and does so. What sort of example does this set to the 7 Kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    £91 for other outgoings? Spurious figure that, makes it look like trying to justify the benefit! School uniforms, 2 sets for each chil per year would mean £160, what's happening to the other £4500?

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Having to choose between luxuries, more like. 200 B&H: £64.24 cans of lager: £7. Tobacco: £14. Sky TV: £15. Mobiles: £32. Cut the smoking and drinking, get a set-top box, and get PAYG mobiles which you only use for important stuff (maybe £1 a week per person). Hey presto, £125 a week. Oh, and get on your bike - plenty of work in software if you don't insist on living in North Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Unbelievable. If the market for your skills 'dried up' 10 years ago, you've had a decade to RETRAIN!. If you wrote educational software, ANYTHING in IT should suit. And don't even get me on to the SIX kids - me and my partner have decided to have no children for now, because WE CAN'T AFFORD IT. Why should my taxes support 'Raymond'.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Benefits are not there to enable you to live in luxury!! Drink/cigarettes/SKY = luxuries!! I don't have SKY because I consider that an expensive luxury so therefore I have Freeview. This is the problem, certain people expect a certain level of living and then feel all indigant if they are not getting it. Well you have to earn it, you're not suppose to be given it on a silver platter.


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