Caring mother is struggling to make ends meet: Judy Jones reports on the punishing effect of recent legislation on a family in John Major's constituency

CHRISTINE Saltmarshe saves the state several hundred pounds a week by choosing to look after her severely disabled daughter at home, rather than put her into residential care. In return, the state has cut the value of the family's social security payments by freezing the weekly income support to Annabel, her 20-year-old daughter, for the last four years.

'It seems so unfair,' said Mrs Saltmarshe, who lives with her family in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and is herself on income support. 'It's hard to make ends meet, let alone see that Annabel gets some pleasure out of life.'

Annabel has a weekly benefit income of pounds 136. Of this, pounds 70.43 comes from mobility allowance and disability premium, and these are uprated annually in line with inflation. But the remainder, pounds 65.57 in income support and transitional addition, is the same as the supplementary benefit that preceded the 1988 legislation.

That pounds 65.57 would have risen to pounds 83.15 a week had the cost-of-living link been maintained. It is unlikely to be restored until 1997 at the earliest, on present Treasury forecasts.

Annabel was brain-damaged at birth and is wheelchair-bound and totally dependent on others to meet her needs. She requires a special diet to control her epilepsy so as to lessen her dependence on drugs. 'It's a high-protein diet that was prepared for Annabel by the Great Ormond Street hospital (in London),' her mother said. 'Her food alone adds up to about pounds 45 a week. 'Then, because Annabel is incontinent, that generates quite a lot of extra washing and drying. The lack of money means all sorts of things don't get done. My house is worth pounds 10,000 less than my neighbour's because I can't afford to keep up with repairs.'

Among Annabel's few enjoyments are her Riding for the Disabled sessions, and listening to music. When her daughter was younger, Mrs Saltmarshe used to take her to the ballet. She cannot do so these days because Annabel is too noisy.

The Government's position, meanwhile, remains as it was set out by John Major, her MP, in a letter to the family last December. The Prime Minister, who was the social security minister responsible for steering the 1988 legislation through the Commons, wrote to Mrs Saltmarshe, regretting that he could offer no solution to the 'real difficulties' she faced.

He went on: 'It has not been possible to identify a means whereby Annabel and other severely disabled people, with large dietary costs, can be given further help without at the same time providing an uncovenanted benefit, at very large cost, to people whose financial circumstances would not warrant it.'

(Photograph omitted)