A mum from Northampton who was forced to steal food to give her children a proper meal said temporary cuts in benefits pending appeals must be abolished to stop families falling into poverty.
Sarah How, who now owns her own dog grooming parlour, spiralled into physical ill health following postnatal depression, which led to her former business failing.
What people don’t realise is that it’s the kids who sufferSarah How
As a result her house was repossessed and, after Government errors over benefits she was entitled to because of her illnesses, she was left living on as little as £30 a week between her and her three children.
Unable to work but without enough benefits to keep them going, things got so bad that Sarah stole food from a supermarket, partly out of desperation but partly because she wanted someone to see what was happening to them.
Sarah, now 44, was cautioned by police and says she was ashamed of what she did, but could not bear being unable to offer her children a proper meal any longer.
She said: “One Sunday, I just had enough, I went into a supermarket and put carrots, chicken and potatoes in my bag and just walked out.
“You feel like a failure because the least thing you can do is feed your kids. I had got more and more ill and that wasn’t possible anymore.”
Eventually with the help of several Northampton organisations including C2C, Welfare Rights and Re:store Northampton, Sarah got back on her feet.
Now owning a business again in Adnitt Road, Abington, Sarah said her experience has left her angry with the benefits system. She was also not only turned down for medically-assessed benefits that she was later awarded in full, the money her children depended upon was drastically cut for eight months until she successfully appealed, a situation the Citizen’s Advice Bureau says is typical.
The lengthy waits are a result of so many people having to be reassessed.
Sarah said: “After the tribunal looked into it they instantly put me on the higher rate of benefit, but that still meant my kids were on the brink of starvation when we were entitled to what was vital money.
“What people don’t realise is that it’s the kids who suffer.”
‘Welfare experts lifted me out of poverty and into my own business’
Sarah was able to battle back to owning her own business again but only with the help of several Northampton agencies.
Chief among those was C2C, which focuses on getting criminals back on their feet, providing emotional and financial support through a dedicated point of contact.
Welfare Rights gave her invaluable help guiding her through the benefits maze.
Re:store, a Northampton food bank, kept the family going with free food parcels.
And Sarah’s father together with friend Nick Flynn loaned her money to start again with what is now her second dog grooming business, Top Dogs in Abington.
She said: “To look around me in my new premises after what I’ve been through, I feel like I’ve woken from a dream. I can’t thank them all enough.”