A LIFE WITHOUT LUXURIES; Last Week the Echo Revealed How Children in South Wales Are among the Most Likely in the UK to Live in Severe Poverty. in a Series of Special Articles This Week, Reporter CARYS HEPWORTH Speaks to Families on the Poverty Line Facing a Daily Struggle to Put Food on the Table

Article excerpt

Byline: CARYS HEPWORTH

RAISING two teenagers as a lone parent would be enough of a challenge on its own. But, for Suzanne Thomas, the challenge has become a struggle after developing a rare muscle condition as a result of a car crash 10 years ago.

Forced to give up work, she relies on diminishing benefits to bring up her children.

In her darkest days, 47-year-old Suzanne, from Bridgend, turned to drink to cope with her depression. Yet even after getting back on her feet, she describes her days as "an existence, not a life", and relies on her mother to help feed and clothe her children.

"I haven't had to turn to loan sharks so far, but I would consider it in future," she said.

"Every day is a struggle, and I really don't want my boys to end up like me, that's what I'm really scared of. I want to work, but I can't.

"I'm fed up of being labelled a scrounger because there are people who play the system, but I loved my job in Sainsbury's. Having to stop working was devastating. I was left with nothing to do but stare at the same four walls and I hated it."

She said her 16-year-old son Gavin was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder two years ago, after being labelled a "troublesome" child at school, and has also had to cope with personal tragedy.

"He's not had an easy time of it, and lost people close to him in the spate of suicides in Bridgend a few years ago," Suzanne added.

"Things were tough for a while and I did worry for him. It's times like those you want to take the kids for days out and treat them, to distract them and showthemyou love them - but luxuries are just not an option for us."

Although the most difficult years have passed and son Darren, 18, is able to contribute a little towards bills, Suzanne worries she just won't manage in the face of government cuts.

"I can't live on pounds 97 a week, andifDavidCamerongets his way and knocks it back another pounds 10 or pounds 20, how am I going to live? It's not enough to live on now - I wouldn't be able to feed my kids if it wasn't for my mum helping me out.

"Gavin understands that I can't buy certain things, but when he was younger he was always on at me about wanting things the other kids at school had.

"Peer pressure is difficult at that age and kids can get bullied if they don't have the right jeans or the right trainers.

"Now he goes straight for sale items and I'm proud of him for that. But I'm also worried he's heading for the same life I had because he's not working. He has no qualifications and he's had some health problems, which make it difficult to stand for a long time. I really pray he won't end up like me."

Gavin said: "I was kicked out of school so it's hard to get a job. I can't go out and see my friends because we can't afford it, I have to keep saying no, so I just sit in the house.

"They understand though, and some of them have the same thing so we do stuff that doesn't cost anything. It gets you down, though. I gave mum a hard time when I was younger."

SERVICES ABLE TO OFFER HELP IF Suzanne's story rings true for you and you feel you aren't coping financially, there is help available.

A good first step is to see your local Citizens' Advice Bureau. …