Why is council building a new home for mother of 11?

Tewksbury

A Gloucester Council has caused an outcry in the press, after it emerged that it was building a new home for an unemployed mother of 11. The home has been described by the papers as a "free designer eco mansion" worth £400,000.

So why is the council splashing out, and is the outcry warranted?
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The property

The property is for Heather Frost, a 36-year-old who lives with her 11 children. Part of the outcry has been over judgments about choices Frost has made, including having her first child at the age of 14. Her children now range in age from 21 to three, and her grandson is two.

There are those who argue that she has had more children than she can afford and she is doing nothing to support them. The Daily Express suggested that she was being rewarded for irresponsible lifestyle decisions.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers' Alliance told the Daily Mail: "Benefits are there to help those who need support, not subsidise a lifestyle that most people paying for them could not afford."

Another part of the outcry is over some remarks she made to the press. The Daily Mail reported her as saying: "It's being built especially for me. If I go there and I say to them I don't like it or it's too small, then they will just have to build me a bigger one, won't they?" Clearly it's hard to love that sense of entitlement.

Harsh reality

However, it's also worth bearing in mind the reality of their lives at the moment. There has been plenty of press talk about 'jobless' and 'feckless' Frost, but there are plenty of people who would argue that having 11 children to look after -including one pre-schooler and four of primary school age - is a job in itself.

The family currently live in two adjacent three-bedroom terraced houses with a door knocked between them. Frost told the Daily Mail that she lives in one with the younger children, and the older children have the second property- which makes it impossible for her to keep an eye on them. She has been living like this for two years while on a waiting list.

This effectively leaves a group of young teenagers alone in their own house. Is there anyone who genuinely thinks this is a good idea?

As Derek Davies, lead member for built environment at Tewkesbury borough council told The Guardian: "This is a human problem and we have to deal with it in a humane way."

Suitable?

The new property is part of a new housing development. It was part of a deal Tewkesbury Borough Council made with Severn Vale Housing Association. They sold the association a plot of land (which had formerly been home to a number of garages) for just £210,000 and in return they agreed to build 15 affordable homes - including one for the Frost family.

Despite claims that it is a bespoke property, it is still two properties knocked together, just more effectively than in the last house. The housing association says that when members of the family move out and a large home is no longer required, they can convert it easily back into two properties.

A housing association spokesperson told The Guardian: "It is bending the truth to say it is a mansion. We have simply adapted it to need. It is exactly the same specification as the rest of the development."

Clearly it will be more suitable, enabling them to live like a family properly. It will also cut their energy bills because it will be built using new energy-saving technology.

So a family has sensible accommodation that has cost the council very little to build. Of course, it is unclear as yet whether a benefits cap will push the price of this property out of the family's reach, so they are forced to downsize by the end of the year anyway.

But what do you think? Should the family have been left in their old home, should they have been split up, should they be put in a smaller home, or is this a sensible solution? Let us know in the comments.

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