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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 17:19 GMT
Two sides of the benefits story
The government has announced plans to get more single parents back to work as part of measures aimed at tackling child poverty.

Lone parents are currently entitled to payments until their child reaches 16, but ministers are thought to favour proposals which would cut benefits at 11.

THERESA EMMANUEL, SINGLE MOTHER

Theresa Emmanuel
Theresa Emmanuel was out of work for 10 years as a single mum

Lone parent Theresa Emmanuel had been unemployed for 10 years and struggling to get by on benefits amounting to less than 400 a month.

Now she is looking forward to receiving her first full month's pay cheque of 1,260 after starting work as a customer service adviser for London Underground.

Theresa, 47, from Hackney, in east London, has four children - two have already left home - but the youngest, Destinee 16, and four-year-old Natarlia, still live with her in her council flat.

She said that after going back to work it quickly became impossible to make ends meet.

"The pay was monthly and all I was receiving was 17 a week and that was it, they just stopped your money and your rent became due the day you signed off the social.

"I was four weeks in arrears with the rent when I got paid, you were always chasing your tail," she said.

She said the way the old benefits system worked, you were better off staying at home.

After 10 years out of work, she was put in touch with a group last September which specialises in helping the long-term unemployed back into work.

The Working Links group helped Theresa put together a CV and helped fund her travel costs and an outfit to wear for interviews.

She says the government has already improved the benefits system to help people back into work, offering loans and grants to cover the shortfall in income before the first pay packet arrives.

Theresa says being back at work has made all the difference to her self confidence.

She said: "It's like 'yes, I can do these things, I am a person', it's like you get back something you lost."

PETER FAIRLESS, SINGLE FATHER

Within hours of hearing the government may be about to cut benefits for lone parents who do not look for work, Peter Fairless was also being told he was losing his job.

For the next four weeks he will still be working part-time, 18-and-a-half hours a week, running a tenant management organisation in Middlesbrough, Cleveland.

Peter, from Saltburn-by-the-Sea, has been a single father since his wife died in 1998. His only son, Brian, is now 13 and attending secondary school.

At 51, Peter also feels responsible for his elderly mother, 85, who still lives on her own but is no longer as capable as she once was.

He said: "The benefits make the difference between living reasonably comfortably and struggling to pay the bills.

"We would be in a fairly serious position without both incomes."

Peter is lucky in that he does not have a mortgage to pay so his income of 750 a month, plus about 160 in benefits, does not have to stretch as far as some lone parents.

He said: "Obviously people should be encouraged to work if they can. However you shouldn't be losing money to go to work."

He will now be looking for a new job, but he says it is difficult to find work that fits with his commitments as a caring father and son.


SEE ALSO
Employment push for lone parents
30 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Hutton rejects family tax breaks
10 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Lib Dems attack benefits culture
19 Dec 06 |  UK Politics

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