A mother's struggle in the heart of affluence

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The Independent Online
Down and Out in London or Paris it is not but Heather Moore, a single mother living on income support in a hostel for the homeless on the outskirts of Guildford, one of the most affluent towns in southern England, struggles to make ends meet.

The 26-year-old mother of Kyle, three, is an island of relative poverty in The Homestead, a large Victorian house on the periphery of the stockbroker- belt Surrey town.

Along with 101 other families in Guildford, mother and son are living in temporary council accommodation until they can be found permanent council homes.

Although the most luxurious houses in Guildford sell for more than £ 500,000, a growing number of families - some of whom have lost their homes through mortgage arrears - are living in severely straitened circumstances.

Ms Moore moved in to the hostel eight months ago after splitting up with her former boyfriend, Kyle's father, who lives elsewhere in the town in a council house. Ms Moore and her son live in two shabby rooms on the first floor of the 18-bedroom house. They share a bathroom with their next-door neighbours and a kitchen with another family.

The family live on £76.50 a week. Ms Moore gets £66.50 income support and £10 family allowance. She pays £10.50 a week in rent and spends £35 a week on food. The rent covers the cost of her heating, light and water.

Her previous boyfriend gave her a Y-registration Metro and now she struggles to find the money to tax it and pay for petrol. She tries to put some money away each week for coats and shoes for Kyle but cannot afford to buy him sweets. Every two or three weeks she treats him to a packet of biscuits. She buys a lot of potatoes. Kyle lives on fish fingers, eggs and mashed potato. She also eats a lot of mashed potato and occasionally has some chicken.

"It would be nice to go shopping and get things, even stupid things like apples and bananas. People would not think of them as luxuries . . . Because I have got a car people think I cannot really be badly off. But I would go mad without a car." The Homestead is miles from Guildford's shopping centre and she needs the car to deliver Kyle to his father at weekends.

"Unless you have been in this situation it is hard to explain what's it's like," she said. "You cannot really plan properly, you just live from week to week. I see people driving round in Mercedes and new Range Rovers and everybody seems to do their shopping at Marks & Spencer's and Sainsbury's.

"Living here is a like a prison, All it needs is barbed wire. I cannot afford to go out . . . It is just depressing sitting here looking at four walls. I sit here watching television, that's the most entertainment I get."