PM challenged to live on pensioner's monthly income

THE PENSIONS REVOLUTION Keeping body and soul together is a daily struggle for Elizabeth Raybone
Elizabeth Raybone is disgusted with the Prime Minister. She wants to challenge John Major to "come and live with me for a month. Leave your money and come and live on mine and then see how you manage. See how you'd cope".

Miss Raybone is 62, partially sighted and lives in a "two-up two- down" house in Gwent, South Wales. She receives income support and a disability allowance which comes to pounds 78 a week. Everything has to be accounted for, but she says that her cat, Beauty, is her one luxury.

She budgets pounds 59 for her heating, mortgage, electricity, telephone bills, newspapers, television licence and insurance. The remaining pounds 19 goes on food - mainly pulses and vegetables as they are cheap and filling. That way she can just about manage, if she spends time in the market shopping around for the best food bargains. "I rarely eat meat - it is far too expensive. I might eat it once a fortnight, if I' m very lucky." But there are sometimes unforeseen problems which can throw her budget out. "It's a question of trying to leave something for a month or two, hope that they don't push me and try to make it up by cutting down on food or heating."

"Heating you can save by wrapping yourself up in a blanket on a chair or just going to bed of course."

But she is terrified of running into debt. "I've seen too many people fall into debt and they just can't get out. If I fell behind in my mortgage payments I could lose my house as easy as pie. For something like the heating, well they can't switch you off in the winter, but come 1 March and they'll do it. At the moment I desperately need new carpets and curtains - but it is not something I can afford."

Miss Raybone did not go out to work but spent most of her life caring for her parents: "It was very hard as practically all my life they were seriously ill and there were no facilities for carers. There was nothing at all.

"We just weren't able to save. If you had saved all your life then maybe you would be able to cope, but with two seriously ill parents it just wasn't possible."

She feels that politicians have failed to realise what sort of life many old people lead and says that yesterday's announcements probably amounts to no more than "election promises".

"If they would just put up the pension pounds 10 or pounds 15 it would make a difference," she said.

"But when you're on pounds 700 a week you don't know what it is like on pounds 70. You're counting each penny - and if milk goes up a penny then you have to find that penny from somewhere else. They wouldn't be able to cope."