While many families are fretting over how to pay for Christmas this year, 20-year-old single mum-of-two Leanna Broderick isn't concerned-because she's got a £2k stash put aside to make it the best Christmas ever.
Leanna, from Croydon, south London – who’s never worked – claims £15,480 a year in benefits, including £111 housing benefit a week, which pays for her two-bed council flat.
She says she’d be a fool to give up her handouts and get a job, as it would actually leave her worse off.
And this way she has enough cash to buy designer clothes and expensive gifts for her daughters Zelekah, two, and Zakirah, one.
Speaking as new figures reveal around 1.6 million Brits in working families are now classed as poor – while the UK benefits bill has soared to a new high of £2bn this year – Leanna says: “Last year, I saved £2,500 and my kids had 50 presents each, including Burberry and Ralph Lauren clothes and dolls, DVDs and CDs.
This year, I’ve saved £2k and they’ll get 20 presents each, including iPads and a new Disney-themed bedroom to share, with designer wall art and bed linen. I’ll get gold earrings for Zelekah – she already has pierced ears. I’ll save £300 for the Boxing Day sales, too.
“I don’t want my girls to be teased for not having the best.”
'It makes me mad when people think they can tell me what to buy with my benefits'
Leanna adds: “I don’t care if people get annoyed. It makes me mad when people think they can tell me what to buy with my benefits. I don’t take advantage, I just choose to save – it’s smart. I don’t think I get too much.
I go to the Job Centre every six months, as it’s government policy, but there’s no point earning less than I get in benefits and forking out for childcare. I feel trapped in the system.”
Leanna, who left school at 16 with no GCSEs, explains: “I never showed up at school. I didn’t take it seriously. Mum was furious, we rowed a lot. So I moved into a hostel and started claiming benefits.”
The following year, Leanna accidentally fell pregnant by her on/off 23-year-old boyfriend.
She recalls: “We’d been seeing each other for a year and didn’t always use protection. I considered a termination, but I wanted my baby.”
Leanna was then allocated a temporary three-bed council home.
When Zelekah was eight months old, she considered working – but accidentally fell pregnant again by the same boyfriend.
She says: “I thought about doing care work, so started volunteering to get experience. But when I had Zakirah, it all stopped. I didn’t want to miss out on my kids’ childhoods or have someone else raise them.
“I’m not one of those girls who gets pregnant for the benefits, though – both my pregnancies were accidents. People may say I should have been more careful, but I think it’s better to be a young mum – you have more energy. The benefits are for my kids, not me.”
'The people at the Job Centre have actually told me I'm better off on benefits'
Leanna, who split with the girls’ father, was given a new council flat with two bedrooms and a garden, and having two kids meant her benefits increased.
She now claims £1,290 a month, including £430 in child tax credits, £132 child benefit, £444 in rent, £80 to cover council tax and single parent benefit of £180 a month – plus £24 worth of vouchers for free milk and fruit.
Leanna adds: “The people at the Job Centre have actually told me I’m better off on benefits than in a minimum-wage job. It’s the system’s fault. My kids would suffer if I worked. This way, taxpayers know I’m raising two well-brought-up kids.”
Leanna says she has enough money to regularly splash out on her children.
And the mum admits she treats herself as well. She says: “I go clubbing with my friends every fortnight and love having lunch at Italian restaurant Prezzo. I dress nicely as I don’t want to be labelled a ‘benefits mum.’
Anyone who thinks people on benefits don’t deserve nice things is talking rubbish. We work hard – I work 24/7 as a mother.”
Leanna reveals she’s been saving for Christmas for months.
She says: “I shop at Iceland and buy in bulk to get the most for my money, and my milk and veg vouchers make a big difference. I buy some of my presents in the sales – I’m always bargain hunting.
'The girls will have new Burberry outfits and I'll have champagne'
I’ve been putting aside £250 a month, which I think is really responsible of me. We’ll have an amazing 6ft tree, the girls will have new Burberry outfits and I’ll have champagne.”
She adds: “For New Year’s Eve, Mum will have the kids while I’m out clubbing with friends. We’ll have champers again – the night will probably cost £150. It’s never cheap on New Year’s.”
After that, Leanna says she’ll be saving again – for Zelekah’s 3rd birthday party at Hamleys toy store in London. She says: “It’s £30 a head and I’m inviting 10 children – only the best for my kids. In some ways, I do have a better life than some working families, but my kids benefit. People who work just live to work, and they should cut back if they don’t have enough for Christmas.”
But Leanna admits this will probably be her last Christmas blowout due to government plans to cut benefits. She says: “I don’t know what I’ll lose, but I might not be able to save any more. I might have to work, but I don’t want to settle for any job – I want a career where I’ll earn enough to maintain this lifestyle.”
She adds: “I’m not against the cuts, but only if the government helps me find a job and gives me training. In the meantime, I’ll stay on benefits and get as much as I can out of it. This Christmas is going to be great!”