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 210.

    This proves exactly why a cap should be put on, they can save the 4 odd grand by cutting out cigarettes, alcohol and sky - life's luxuries. Easily money saved and he can't sit around watching Sky TV anymore boredom will force him to get any job. I fear after 10 years unemployment this guy simply does not want to work. I wish we had life that easy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I like how this artical is forming a lynch mob mentality and yet it hides the name of the person it's protecting. My guess is that this is THE most extreme situation where the system has failed. it seems to me that this artical serves 1 purpose. to rile up the public and win support for the conservatives. well it's worked. CAP THE BENEFITS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Out of work since 2001 the man has no excuse.If his skills are no longer available find other type of work there's lot's out there.if you are on benefits you should not be able to afford Sky or Mobile phones.5 year old boy and out of work was that wise.Sorry but this kind of benefit is why the british tax payer is frustrated with government aid.I am 64 made redundant in 2001 I found work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    I live in London, I'm self employed, have a net income of about £21k a year and live quite comfortably. 10 years ago I ran a reasonably successful web design company, once the work started to dry up I retrained to do something else and got on with life.
    At least when I go down the pub with my mates they know I'm earning my own and not living of their taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "former educational software writer". I was an educational software writer who lost his job in 2002. You need to branch out and gain new skills. Assuming this means you are a programmer there are a million different things you could be programming. Don't pigeon hole yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I'm currently living on benefit myself, and it isn't easy - the cap in housing benefit means I must contribute to rent out of money for food. I live with my son, but have to have provision for my two daughters to sleep here when they visit (they live with their mother), something HB does not take into account. Mobile + internet are essential to look for a job, and I don't smoke or drink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    This says everything that is wrong with society. I am married with 2 kids and earn several thousand less than these people get in benefits. I cant afford Sky TV or expensive mobile phones or 24 cans of Lager a week or to go out or smoke cigarettes. Why should people like me pay for people like this. He says he need Sky movies for entertainment when they are at home all day! Unbelievable


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