‘Every penny is accounted for. A benefits cut would put me out of work’

Valerie lives in a three-bedroom house in Bristol with her five-year-old son and 18-month-old twin boys. She works in Bristol University library. She relies on benefits to pay for rent.

Valerie

Valerie

I am a single parent. I get the full allocation of housing benefit and the full allowance of tax credits.  My housing benefit is roughly £700 a month and my rent is £925 a month so to make up the shortfall I have to rely on tax credits or my salary, which after paying for essentials doesn’t come to much.

I work 17-and-a-half hours a week. When I’m at work, my children are in childcare. That cost is covered by tax credits. Without tax credits it’s impossible for me to work as childcare is so expensive.

It costs £1,500 a month to put my 18-month-old twins in childcare for the limited time that I work. I also have to pay for my five-year-old son to go to the after school club, which is another £100 a month.

I’d like to work more but I can’t because I already get the full allowance of tax credits. I wouldn’t be able to afford the extra childcare out of my salary, as my wage per hour is too low.

Valerie in the garden

Valerie in the garden

My full time salary would be £15,500 a year, so working half time I’m roughly earning about £600 a month after tax.  So my tax credits and housing benefit are essential to allow me to pay my childcare and my rent.

I never see that money, it just pays for those essentials. My income goes to pay the remainder of my rent, utilities, run the car (which I need to get to work) and buy our food.  Every single penny is accounted for.

To have a cut in either or both of housing benefit and tax credits would force me out of work. I wouldn’t be able to afford childcare and the reduction in income would force me out of my home.  If I’m not getting the tax credits and I can‘t work I can’t survive with three children on unemployment benefit and keep up with my rent, it just doesn’t pay enough.

Valerie reads to her son

Valerie reads to her son

Prospective cuts to welfare mean I would have to rearrange childcare based on a new location, because it would affect what time I could pick up my kids, which would make working untenable.

Of course I’ve searched for somewhere cheaper to live.

I scrutinise my accounts and how it all balances. I spend hours doing it and working out how the housing benefit payment and tax credits work and why I get what I get.

It’s not even as if I planned to have three children.  Both pregnancies were while I was using birth control! I didn’t deliberately get pregnant to try and score that child benefit.  No one does, it’s just not worth it on an hourly rate basis.  And then I had twins, which in childcare cost is an absolute killer.

I have three degrees and I shouldn’t have to rely on hand-outs to get by, but I do. I rely on them.

I’m on benefits out of necessity, because I can’t avoid it, but claiming them makes me feel like I’ve somehow failed at life. It’s particularly difficult when I have to argue with the benefits office when they’ve incorrectly calculated my award and I should be getting more than they’ve paid me.

It always brings that scene from Oliver Twist to mind, where he can’t continue to live on the little portion of food he receives in charity, but he’s punished and abused for having the audacity to ask for more.

Valerie and the twins

Valerie and the twins

I also always feel pressured to justify any luxury spending, such as new clothes, haircuts or days out with the children. We don’t buy loads of toys, I don’t drink, smoke, gamble, go out socialising, or even get takeaways.

I can’t save for anything on my budget. There’s no way I can improve my financial situation by building a safety net of personal savings.

Shelter provides free expert advice on housing benefit and  discretionary housing payments

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