Christmas on benefits: Eloise is spending
Christmas on benefits: Eloise is spending
Christmas on benefits: Eloise is spending £3,000 to give her children EVERYTHING they want for Christmas. And guess what? You’re paying for it.
Like many mothers, Eloise Little has been stockpiling her four children’s Christmas presents for months.
She’s had to budget, too: what with the designer clothes and expensive gadgets on their wish lists, she needs to spend at least £300 to £400 on each of them in order to meet the demands for laptops, computer games, trainers and bikes.
Then there’s all the food and drink required to see the family through the festive season.
That, she reckons, will set her back several hundred pounds, on top of the thousand of pounds or so she spends on other presents and festivities over the season.
Benefits mum: All the trimmings for Eloise Little and her children Emily, Katie, Sophie and Ben. She spends up to £400 on each of them at Christmas on laptops, trainers, computer games and bikes
They’re the sort of figures that would surely make the average working parent stare gloomily into their Christmas eggnog – few, after all, are in a position to contemplate spending such a sum.
But then, as 27-year-old Eloise, from Penryn, Cornwall, admits, she’s not a member of your average working family.
She’s on benefits, meaning that effectively it’s your money which is paying for her children’s Christmas – Xboxes and all.
Moreover, as far as Eloise is concerned, it’s all entirely fair – in fact, the merest hint of a raised eyebrow at her circumstances is enough to make her see red.
‘It makes me furious when people criticise how I choose to spend my money,’ she says.
‘Taxpayers seem to feel that they have the right to tell people on benefits how to spend their money,’ she adds. ‘They don’t – the government decides what people like me are entitled to, not the taxpayer.
‘If it’s offered to us, then of course we’re going to take it and we shouldn’t be criticised for doing so. Frankly, I believe it’s my right to do what I want this Christmas with the benefits I deserve.’
Strong sentiments, and ones that are bound to stir strong feeling at a time when even the most cautious hard-working couples are feeling the pinch.
Especially as it’s unlikely that the average working couple will be able to afford a £3,000 blowout on festive treats for the family as Eloise has this year – not that she sees it that way, of course.
In her view, what is unfair is expecting her children to downgrade their expectations.
‘If my children ask me to buy them something for Christmas, then I’m going to bust a gut to get it for them,’ she says.
‘I’m just thinking of my kids. That’s what a mum does. It’s my right to do what I want this Christmas with my benefits’
‘I don’t want to have to say to the kids, “You can’t have that”. It’s not fair and I’m not going to do it. There are people out there who are earning money and getting benefits, and they’re the ones we should be having a go at.’
There are thousands of young women like Eloise around the country – women who have never had more than a fleeting acquaintance with the world of work.
Certainly, elements of Eloise’s tale are all too familiar: a teenage pregnancy, a fractured relationship and four children left without a father who contributes not a single penny to their upkeep.
Yet there are notable differences, too, which help her stand out from the standard graduates of the Vicky Pollard school of benefit claimants and which, in some ways, make her story all the more depressing.
Intelligent and articulate, there is no reason why, in other circumstances, Eloise should not be a fully paid-up member of the ranks of the employed. Indeed, the truly wearying element of her tale is that it simply does not pay her to work.
As she puts it: ‘I went to the JobCentre and we worked out that if I went back to work I would actually be £10 a week worse off. I receive £21,528 in annual benefits, and I’d need to earn 30 grand a year before tax to match that.
‘I’m not qualified to do a job which pays me that, so it makes no sense for me to do anything other than stay at home. I defy any parent in my position not to do what I’m doing.’
Born and raised in Cornwall, Eloise describes her family as ‘loving’ and ‘stable’, and while her own father received incapacity benefit, her mother had an administrative job at a local school.
As a teenager, Eloise harboured her own ambitions to be an air hostess, but when she found out she was pregnant by her boyfriend of 18 months just before her 17th birthday, any further career plans had to be scrapped.
‘We’d been using contraception, so I was shocked, but I knew straight away that I wanted to keep the baby, and my parents were really good about it, even though they were a bit disappointed,’ she says.
After the birth of her daughter, Emily, in March 2001, the young family were allocated a council flat – the first step on the benefits chain which Eloise would now assiduously start to climb – before subsequently moving into a two-bedroom house after the birth of their second child, Sophie, who is now seven.
All too predictably, there was no happy-ever-after to this story, and Eloise and her boyfriend split up in April 2004 – although not before Eloise had given birth to another daughter, Katie, now six.
‘I thought we’d be together for ever. But he cheated on me and was violent – he’d smash up the house,’ she explains. ‘It was on-off, on-off for a long time, but we finally split up after he hit me and I thought: “I’m not standing for that.” ’
She did, however, let him back into her bed on one further occasion two years later, when Billy, now four, was conceived.
It rather begs the question, though, that if she knew how unstable the relationship was why continue to have children — in particular, the one who was conceived a good two years after they had finally ‘split for good’.
‘It makes me furious when people criticise how I choose to spend my money’: Eloise believes it’s her right to spend her benefits money how she wants
‘I was young and naïve and every time I got pregnant he would tell me he was going to change,’ she says. ‘Plus I’m a damn good mum. Why shouldn’t I have more kids if I wanted them?’
Particularly, of course, if someone else can pay for them, as Eloise quickly discovered. After attending her DSS office to register as a single parent, she learned she was entitled to a series of benefits, including income support and housing benefit.
The council would, she learned, pay the £61-a-week rent on her council house (by now, she’d upgraded to a three-bedroom property), as well as her £100-a-month council tax and give her £145-a-week child tax credit on top.
Under the current system, her child tax credit has gone up to £180 a week and her rent and council tax are still covered. Her three elder children also receive free school meals.
It all adds up to a reasonable sum, but Eloise says it’s not enough. ‘It’s hard work making ends meet,’ she says. ‘From that, I have to cover everything from the bills to food and clothes shopping.’
Which, of course, brings us to that huge Christmas bill — a bafflingly large sum — paid for, Eloise says, by saving some of her benefits over the year and taking out a £1,500 private loan, which she will probably manage to pay back only at the end of next year.
‘I’m always in a cycle of borrowing,’ she says. ‘I’ve only just managed to pay off the loans from last Christmas.’
‘I’m always in a cycle of borrowing. I’ve only just managed to pay off the loans from last Christmas’
As far as she’s concerned, though, it’s more than worth it. ‘The kids deserve nice things. They’re very respectful, they’re not greedy and they appreciate everything they get. Every child deserves a good Christmas, whether their parents work or are on income support.’
That, of course, depends on your definition of ‘good’ — which, in Eloise’s case, involves giving in to a list of demands including Xboxes, computer games, a Nintendo DS and, of course, the ubiquitous designer trainers.
‘They don’t demand designer labels, but I like to buy them because I want them to look nice,’ she explains.
‘Not everything they own is designer, but I will buy them stuff from time to time, especially at Christmas, and I don’t see why I can’t do that. I’m just doing the best by my children, and that’s all you can ask of any mother.’
In fairness to Eloise, her offspring do seem a polite, well-behaved bunch – something which, Eloise insists, is a direct result of the fact she is a full-time mum.
‘I’m always here for them – I take them to school, I’m here when they get back and, of course, I’m looking after Billy until he goes to school full-time,’ she says.
Not so little: Kids deserve nice things, says Eloise Little, but hard-working parents may baulk at the excessive present buying (picture posed by model)
‘I’m thinking of my kids in all of this – that’s what a mum does.
‘My kids are better off the way they are at the moment – if I went to work, even if I could afford it, they’d be farmed off into childcare. If their dad was around, maybe it would be different – we could split shifts and make sure there was always a parent around. But I’m not going to do it while I’m single.
‘They’re not young for very long, so I want to enjoy my time with them while I can – and there’s nothing to say you can’t be at home with your children just because the dad isn’t there.
‘It’s not a bed of roses – it’s hard work being a single mum, looking after children all day, and I bust a gut to do it properly. The bottom line is that whether people like it or not, it makes no sense for me to go to work.’
Of course, many working mums would love to have the option to spend more time at home with their children – except they have the opposite argument, in that they can’t afford not to work.
‘That’s their choice,’ Eloise says blithely. ‘If they want to see their kids more, then they should change their shifts or choose a different job instead of blaming me for their problems.
‘I get sick and tired of others focusing on people on benefits as though we’re the root of all the problems in the world.
‘Would it make them happy if all the people on benefits got sent to internment camps and fed gruel? People need to look at their own lives before they judge us.’
That, of course, is precisely what many working people are doing, one suspects – possibly wondering where they went wrong. Still, things may change: as Eloise knows all too well, government cuts may well see benefits to families such as hers chopped back.
‘Of course I’m concerned,’ she says. ‘It makes me angry when I hear about all the money the Government spends on foreign aid when they’re looking to make life harder for people in this country.’
Eloise does, at least, hope to train as a midwife once her children are all in full-time education, and she insists she has no plans to spend the rest of her life receiving handouts.
‘At the moment I’m at home with Billy, but once the kids are out of the house for most of the day, I do want to get out there and do something. But it’s going to take time and I won’t be able to do it overnight.’
It is at least a step in the right direction – although one suspects the sentiments will come as cold comfort to the legion of hard-working parents struggling to fund Christmas this year – and for whom Xboxes and designer labels seem a world away.