How welfare reform looks at ground level

Dawn and her daughter Kelly. Dawn had her housing benefit cut by 14%, which left her short of cash, she said. Photo: ITV News

Dawn lives with her daughter, Kelly, in a three bedroom house on a small estate in Runcorn.

She had always been pleased to have the extra bedroom because it allowed her to use what little spare money she had to build an activity room for Kelly, who is almost totally blind and has severe disabilities.

Then last spring she was told that new welfare rules mean anyone under-occupying social housing would lose a slice of their housing benefits. Sure enough, 14% was deducted leaving her short of cash to help with Kelly"s complex daily routines.

When I met her today Dawn told me:

I always make sure she's alright - but I don't have anything left at all to do anything.

If we wanted to just do a small thing like going to the zoo we couldn't do it. We don't have any treats we just live day to day.

After months of being subjected to the benefit deduction, Dawn did get a Discretionary Housing Payment.

Indeed, it now seems likely that she should never have had the deductions in the first place and could even be in line for a repayment.

Dawn was given a "discretionary housing payment" and could be entitled to a repayment. Credit: ITV News

I met Dawn though her participation in a unique survey which is tracking dozens of households in the North of England as they go through welfare reform.

The study is being done by Real Life Reform and is run by the Northern Housing Consortium.

Today they revealed that average weekly debt repayments of those being followed have swollen by 58% since October - now standing at £34.41.

On average they are spending just £3 a day each on food.

The survey by the Northern Housing Consortium found the average household was spending £3 each day on food. Credit: ITV News

It was a great experience to meet Dawn and Kelly and for a few hours share their life which, though not full of money, is certainly full of love.

Her story is so relevant to the current debate on welfare reform because it acts as a lightening rod for the wider discussions.

The family have been forced to pay extra under the welfare reforms. Credit: ITV News

Those who feel the the governments reforms are correct can point to it as an example where a vulnerable household got help despite a programme of sweeping reforms.

Those who oppose the welfare changes can say the same case proves the anxiety that has been heaped on helpless families.

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