`Real help for returning to work'

The Winners

Stella Lane, 36, has three children: Laurence, aged nine, Sadie, aged seven and Jenna, aged five. They live in Hornchurch, Romford. Her income is pounds 205.70 a week, from childminding and various benefits.

Miss Lane is a single mother with three children and a mortgage. She receives no support from the children's father, (and the CSA have made no attempt to chase him up) and the monthly mortgage repayments top pounds 270 a month.

Since she is only able to pay pounds 150 a month to the building society, she is in arrears, and the Budget will add around pounds 105 on to her annual payments through the reduction of Miras from 15 to 10 per cent. She had been worried that the new Labour government might target home owners - she felt she was encouraged to buy her own home by the government in the 1980s and is now being punished.

Most of these concerns, though, were overtaken by her enthusiasm for the rest of the Budget.

Although she doesn't receive any Housing Benefit or mortgage help, she gets pounds 59 a week Income Support, pounds 28.40 Child Benefit and pounds 6.30 Lone Parent Benefit. None of this has changed, and she thinks that the reduction of VAT on fuel will be a help. As the owner of a seven-seater car she will be hit hard by increases in petrol and road tax.

She thought that Kenneth Clarke's Budget last year was good for the middle- classes but did virtually nothing for those on lower incomes, and she is encouraged by the idea of a Labour Budget that is "more positive for the lower earners".

"It's a real help and commitment for those returning to work, a caring, sharing Budget rather than a stab in the back"

Personally, she's happy to pay a bit extra (on Miras for example) if it increases the chances of her three children doing well at school and then getting work.

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