'We've paid our way in the past': Benefits family of 12 whose 50k handouts are 'too good' for them to go back to work appear on Daybreak to defend controversial lifestyle
Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp, 28, and Ian Sharp, 56, claim 72k a year before tax
Family live with six of their children in 1,700-a-month house paid for with housing benefit
Couple say private landlords' rent caps are too high and beg for 400-a-month council house to wean them off housing benefits
Stephanie admits they get too much – but blames the system. 'It's the Government's fault – I need help getting off benefits,' she says
'I can see why people are angry. I want to contribute again,' Stephanie says
17:13 GMT, 30 May 2012
A couple with ten children who said the 50k they receive in benefits makes it pointless going back to work have appeared on Daybreak to defend their controversial lifestyle.
Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp, 28, partner Ian Sharp, 56 live with six of their children in a 1,700-a-month five-bed house in Kent paid for by the State – and receive a further 28,000 in separate benefits every year.
Astonishingly, Stephanie insists she cannot go back to work because she would not be able to earn enough to cover the cost of their current lifestyle. For his part, Ian says his debilitating migraines have prevented him from returning to work for the past two decades.
Since the story broke, the two have come under fire for saying claiming benefits is 'too easy' and that they are better off on handouts than they would be working for a living.
But this morning, the couple hit back at critics who have called them 'scroungers'.
We can see why people are angry, but it's the Government's fault': Ian Sharp and partner Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp appear on Daybreak this morning to defend their 50k State handouts
In the interview, screened this morning on ITV, Kate Garraway asked Stephanie what she would say to those who have lashed out at her for claiming benefits she has admitted she does not need.
Her reply That both she and Ian have 'had their time working'.
'I have worked full time,' Stephanie says. 'I've had my time working. When my eldest son was two weeks old. I went back to work, because I had a mortgage, I had a house. I couldn't afford not to. Ian has worked full time, Ian has paid lots of tax.
'But you're not working now,' Kate Garraway points out.
'We are not currently,' Stephanie agrees. 'I gave up work before I met Ian because I had three children under 5 and I couldn't work and afford childcare.'
'The plan for the last 18 months has been I want to go to work.
'However, I can't get a job that's going to cover my rent, my council tax and my bills.
For Ian's part, he says he worked 'straight' from 1969 to 1992 until he was forced to give up his job after collapsing while at the welding machine at the firm where he worked.
He says that every three weeks he has to spend three or four days in bed with serious migraines and hasn't been able to work since.
'I didn't want to leave my job,' he says. 'They made me give my job up, they said it was just too dangerous.'
'There will be people watching who say you have every right to have as many children as you wish, but you can't expect the public to pay for them, which is what's happening now, Daybreak's Dan Lobb says.
Stephanie, 29, centre, pictured with partner Ian, 56, and their ten
children – Bobbie, Cameron, Jack, Stephen, Sian, Charlie, Alex, Summer,
Callum and Nicole – says she knows she is taking advantage of the
benefits system – but blames the government for making it 'so easy'
Ian replies: 'We agree with that. Stephanie works 40 hours in a week in a charity shop to get experience so that she can get a job [Stephanie says she volunteers in order to get experience and to meet people, and so her children are instilled with a good work ethic].
'But what people don't understand is that our housing benefit [the two receive 1,700 a month, or 20,400 a year] goes straight to the landlord. People think we are getting the money but we're not.
Ian goes on to explain that their house, owned by a private landlord, has a much higher rent payable than the 400 they would need to pay for a council house. Therefore, their housing benefits need to be correspondingly much higher to pay their landlord.
The benefits system allows for this, setting high rent caps that critics have slammed as extortionate, especially for larger properties like the privately rented house the Government has allocated to the Fennessy-Sharp family live in.
Garraway asks Ian what he would say to the taxpayers who are paying for him and his family to live in their five bedroom house in Kent and their lifestyle. 'They are funding your life,' she says.
'What would you say to them'
Stephanie, who is mother to three of the children from a previous marriage and step-mother to seven of Ian's children, interjects, saying that they have 'paid their way' previously.
'We have also contributed to that. We have both paid taxes,' she says. Not at the moment, but in the past. And I want to contribute again.
'I want to come off of benefits and I want to go to work full time. It's the system that is stopping me.'
'It's somewhere higher up in the Government that's stopped me from doing it.
Read more: The original interview appears in this week's Closer magazine, on sale now
Ian steps in to defend his partner, saying: 'If Stephanie didn't want to go to work, she wouldn't go from half past eight in the morning and work til 6 o'clock at night in a charity shop for free, every single week.'
'Nevertheless,' Lobb says, 'Many of our viewers will say 50k a year is probably twice as much as people watching this programme actually earn doing a full time job.
'They find it an affront, although
it's perfectly legitimate, what you are claiming, and an affront that
you are able to get that from the State.'
understand why people are angry,' Stephanie says. 'I'm saying, if I had
a council house, my rent would be 400 a month, and I could cover that.
I could work to cover that and I wouldn't be on benefits any more.
need someone to help me to come off the benefits system. Then I will be
back out working. I will be working to help support other people who
steps in once more, asking Stephanie what her children make of their
lifestyle. 'Does it worrying you that they are seeing you living off
benefits' she asks.
'All the children think Stephanie get paid for her job,' Ian says. 'But she doesn't,' Garraway says.
goes on, saying his children are well-educated, well-behaved, and
nothing like the 'typical' children people expect those on benefits to
'All my children have 100 per cent attendance at school,' he says. 'All of them are going to have good careers.
oldest wants to be a doctor in the Army. None of my children roam the
streets. They are not the typical children that people would think
people like us have.'
back to the contentious subject of the housing benefit the two claim,
Ian speaks out against the Government's use of expensive private
landlords, saying that if they could have a council house, they would
not be trapped within the benefits system.
'To me, if we could have a house that cost 400 a month, we'd be fine,' he says.
As for Stephanie, she believes the children will look at their life of hardship and be inspired to work hard to achieve more.
'The children can see that we are struggling on benefits,' Stephanie says.
'And that's not what I want for my children.'