Budget 1999: Case Study: The Low-Pay Family - `Life will still be a struggle for us'

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The Independent Online
John Goodwin, 35, and his wife, Jude, 31, from Manchester. Mr Goodwin is a student teacher, having changed careers. Mrs Goodwin does not work. The couple have two children Freya, five, and Max, two. His annual student grant is pounds 3,900 plus a student loan of pounds 2,700. They receive pounds 20 .75 a week in child benefit. They have outgoings of around pounds 440 a month.

BEFORE YESTERDAY the Goodwins and their children were living off little more than pounds 150 a week. This morning they will still be struggling, having been helped only marginally by a Budget they believe was designed for the better-off.

"There were no great surprises. I think it was the kind of mid-term Budget you might have expected," said Mr Goodwin, who is training to be a Higher Education teacher. "We seem to exist in a vacuum that never really gets addressed."

Mr Goodwin, who has two degrees - an MA and a BA in art - and used to work part-time in an art gallery, returned to college to try to improve his job opportunities. The family survive from his mature student's grant of pounds 3,900, a student loan of pounds 2,700 and child benefit of pounds 20.75 a week. They have no savings and survive through an overdraft and "sliming around the bank-managers".

The only changes to their income will be the reduction of pounds 50 on their annual car licence fee and the pre-announced increase in universal child benefit from April to pounds 14.40 for the eldest child and pounds 9.60 for subsequent children. (The figures are currently pounds 11.45 and pounds 9.30 respectively.)

"It has not been a budget that involves any philosophy," said Mr Goodwin. "It does not address the issue of whether lone parents should be forced to take a job no matter what sort of job, rather than deciding it is a worthwhile task to bring up children.

"Living how we do and where we do, it is so easy to see what happens if you ignore a generation."

Mr Goodwin said the Budget had not addressed public transport. "The other night I was at the bus stop waiting for the 7pm bus. I was there an hour and the bus never showed up and I had walk home in the rain. It is ridiculous that in a metropolis like this there is not adequate public transport to make what should be a 10 minute journey across the city."