At school, Natalie was “happy-go-lucky”. She left aged 17 and went to work full-time in the salon. During her twenties, Natalie lived at her parents’ house in Acton. But after Stacy was born, she was told by her parents to find her own place. Stacy’s father had disappeared from the scene.

Hammersmith and Fulham council offered Natalie “temporary” housing in White City; the flat is meant for a single person, not a parent and child. Six years later, temporary has become permanent. Natalie sleeps in the living room-cum-kitchen.

On the estate there are few people she trusts to help look after Stacy. “A lot of people are weak”, she says. “When they want more money they have more children.” Rather than send Stacy to the nearest school, Natalie walks her daughter to and from a better one, 45 minutes away. Of her fellow residents she says: “They think we’re posh because I’m trying to get her out of the ghetto.”

Last year, when Stacy turned five, Natalie stopped receiving income support, an out-of -work benefit, and had to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance, which requires the recipient to look for a job. The past two UK governments have tightened the eligibility requirements for income support; before November 2008, lone parents could receive the benefit until their youngest child reached 16. That threshold has been steadily reduced, from 16 to 12 to 10 to 7 to 5, where it currently stands.

Natalie signed up for the Work Programme, the coalition government’s “welfare to work” scheme. She has three-quarters of the credits required for a child care qualification at a local college. Work Programme advisers said completing the course would take too long. Natalie found her own employment. In January, she took a part-time job at Mothercare.

She starts next week. Her goal is to turn these 12 hours per week into a secure, full-time job (if she were to work at least 16 hours per week she would be eligible for working tax credits), and to complete her child care qualification. “Life throws you peanuts. It’s up to you to make peanut butter”, she says.

For her 12 hours of work per week, paid at the minimum wage of £6.31, she will receive £75.72. Typically, if you work part-time (defined as fewer than 16 hours per week) while receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, your benefit is reduced pound for pound, aside from a £5 disregard. A week of JSA is £71.70, so she would be able to claim 98p (71.70 – (75.72-5)) of JSA – an eye-watering marginal tax rate.

Natalie decided to come off the benefit rather than receive 98p per week. The gap between her last JSA payment and her first pay cheque left her with no money. Her job centre advisers, she says, did not tell her that her JSA payment would be stopped so soon. And they did not tell her about emergency hardship assistance, access to which has been reduced by the current government.

She tried calling a government helpline but waiting for her turn drained her phone of its £4 of credit. Her prepaid heating key – already more expensive than other forms of bills – has run out. The flat is cold. And soon enough, there was no food.

No peanuts.

Full article here.