A mother-of-10 who claims £50,000 in benefits has provoked outrage by declaring: "I'm better off volunteering than working."
Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp, 29, works a 40-hour week in a charity shop for free because she says she is "not a stereotypical scrounger" and she wants to set a good example to her children.
But she can only afford to do voluntary work because she claims so much in benefits. She admitted that she is healthy enough to do a paid job – but the way Government benefits are structured means it isn't worth her while.
"The benefits are being offered to me, so I'd be silly to turn them down," Stephanie told Closer magazine.
"I know taxpayers are being punished – I hate taking their money. But we're being allowed to get away with it.
"We're taking advantage of the system, but that's the system's fault – we'd be silly not to with so many mouths to feed.
"It's ridiculous, but I'm better off volunteering than earning – we're well off and I'm not going to give that up until I have to."
Stephanie lives with her partner Ian Sharp and six of their 10 children in a five-bedroom detached house in Kent.
Neither she nor 56-year-old Ian work – he suffers from debilitating headaches - but they claim the equivalent of a £72k salary before tax.
In an interview with Closer, Stephanie defended herself by saying she volunteers because she wants to "give something back to society".
And she explained that it made more sense for her to work for free than to get a job that would pay a fraction of her handouts and lose her benefits.
But her comments have made some taxpayers see red.
One wrote on an online forum: "There are enough truly poor and needy families in this country that this woman's story is obscene - she is stealing from those that pay their taxes and from those who really need help.
"Cut her benefits and make this family go out to work.
"This government needs to get a grip and force people like these people to work - most people in this country don't earn £70K per year so why should she get it for nothing?"
But others leapt to Stephanie's defence.
"If you break it down £50k ain't a lot to support a family with 10 kids in it," one wrote.
"I don't really see any other option but to supporting them with benefits. The children exist. It would be more expensive, not to mention traumatic, to split the family up and put the kids in care, so realistically keeping them at home with a decent-ish benefit cheque is best."
Stephanie, who used to work in a shop before leaving work after having her second child, has three children of her own, Jack, 10, Charlie, eight, and Steven, six, with her ex-husband, and is stepmother to Ian's seven children - Bobbie, 19, Nicole, 16, Alexandra, 14, Sian, 13, Callum, 10, Cameron, seven, and Summer, three, from his relationship with his ex-wife.
She says that she dreamed of being a teacher before having children put paid to her goal.
Before she split with the father of her three children, she lived in a three-bedroom house, paid for with housing benefit, and claimed income support, child benefit, child tax credits and council tax benefit.
When she then met Ian, who left his job as a factory worker 20 years ago after he began suffering migraines, she took on the role as his permanent carer - enabling her to claim carer's allowance in addition to Ian's £60 a week incapacity benefit.
It also allows Stephanie to be exempt from the Jobseekers Allowance rules, meaning she does not lose her benefits when she fails to look for employment.
According to the magazine, Stephanie should be caring for Ian 35 hours a week, which she admitted she doesn't need to, given that Ian suffers from headaches only once every few weeks.
Between them, the family claim £4,524 child benefit, £14,456 tax credits, £1,200 council tax benefit and £8,320 incapacity benefit. They also receive £20,400 housing benefit a year, which works out at £1,700 a month.
In total, they get £48,900 a year.
They were given a four-bedroom council house in April 2010, which they swapped in February 2011 for a privately rented five-bedroom house in Erith after they complained of damp.
Their new house, in a leafy suburban area, has a large garden, driveway and a garage for their Toyota Previa people carrier.
Stephanie said: "Obviously, I could work and I'd like to. I feel guilty about how much we claim – we don't even need a five-bedroom house as the kids could share. But it's a nice area with good schools."
She said she works in the charity shop from 9am to 5.30pm four days a week because she doesn't want to fall into the trap of "no job, no confidence".
"I want to meet new people – and teach my kids a work ethic," she said.
"My young children think I get paid for working at the charity shop."
Stephanie insists the job gives her a sense of pride - but that if she were to work in a shop for a wage, the money she would be paid (she estimates £13,000) wouldn't cover her rent.
"I don't have a choice,' she told Closer.
"I feel like this situation has been forced upon us by the Government."
The full interview appears in this week's Closer magazine, out now.
What do you think?
Actually sounds like the husband is the one who needs to get back to work and start providing for his seven children and three step-children?
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