Penny (not her real name), the mother of five who was so appreciative on Friday when she received help from our London food bank, tells us that she had escaped from an abusive relationship. As a result she has had to move house 11 times, with her older children attending three different secondary schools so far. She has mental health issues – made worse by the stress of trying to feed her girls, who range in age from 14 to four months. Penny was referred to us by her community psychiatric nurse.
She receives £120 every two weeks in Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and £240 in child tax credit a week. But by the time she pays her private landlord £200 a week (which also includes rent arrears) by standing order, she only had £40 left this week to cover gas, electricity and food.
Penny, whose says her ex-husband “hasn’t given me anything”, believes single parents with larger families are being particularly affected by policies towards claimants: “I’ve been trying to get the council to help for the last six months. I know another mum with five children who can’t afford to feed them.”
Despite all the setbacks, Penny is obviously a loving mother, who does her best for the children. She’s someone who puts her youngsters’ welfare first. “I’m doing a brilliant job. My children are being brought up well. They say please and thank you. All they (the government) want to do is to bring us down. There’s no help when you have babies.” The facts back up her view. Back in 2011, the £500 per child Sure Start maternity grant was restricted to the first child in a family, and crisis loans are no longer available to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance or other low income benefits.
The food bank – set up by local churches in this borough in partnership with the Trussell Trust – may have been able to ensure that this is a better week for Penny and her children. But her new baby and her older sisters will not thrive unless the family’s future prospects improve quickly.