Loan system fails struggling mother

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The Independent Online
JACKIE BIDWELL, a lone parent, found that trying to get money for a new mattress for her 10-year-old son from the Social Fund was like getting blood out of a stone, writes Martin Whitfield.

'They say I haven't been on benefit for long enough but one woman got pounds 600 for a new cooker,' she said.

Loans from the fund are repaid directly from benefit and have to be approved by the social security office.

Ms Bidwell, 36, who also has a 20-month-old son, has been on benefit since leaving her job as a computer support adviser. She lives in a two-bedroom council house in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

'I was on pounds 600 a month but the rent was pounds 200, the childminder was pounds 50 a week, there were school dinners, the council tax. I got nothing,' she said. 'It was all right before I had the baby but if I went out to work now I would be worse off, they would deduct what I earned out of what I get in benefit.

'I am looking for a job in the evening for three hours or so but I don't know how it will affect things. Every time I try to contact the DSS I don't get very far in finding out the rules.'

The family's weekly budget - made up of pounds 45 benefit and pounds 30 maintenance - allows no luxuries and Ms Bidwell neither drinks nor smokes. The rent is paid by housing benefit.

'The children are always all right but you know there are some houses where there is lots of food in the cupboard. Well, I'm afraid this is not one of them,' she added. 'My mum has always given me our Sunday dinner.

'I don't go shopping very often but we got two pairs of shoes for the children and they were pounds 65. Mum and Dad got them. I couldn't cope without my parents.'