A sole parent says she has lost a sixth of her bodyweight because she has not been able to eat properly since the Government tightened access to training subsidies for beneficiaries last year.

Sara, a 35-year-old West Auckland mother in her second year of an applied science degree at Unitec, gets $517 a week in welfare but needs $668 a week to pay rent, drive to her classes and run a home for herself and her 12-year-old daughter - a shortfall of $151 a week.

Her doctor advised her to go to the Waitakere office of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett because her weight had dropped from 59kg to just under 50kg since early last year as a result of her not being able to afford food.

Ms Bennett's office made an appointment for her with Work and Income's Westgate manager, but the agency could come up with only an extra $4 a week.

She cannot use her surname in print because she is afraid of a violent ex-partner. But the Herald supplied her full details to Ms Bennett and to Work and Income's head office in Wellington, which confirmed that she is receiving her "full and correct entitlement".

Beneficiary advocate Pam Apera said cases like Sara's were common and she was fielding a growing number of calls from beneficiaries who could see no way out except suicide.

"I fielded two at least two-hour calls on Tuesday and that's what other community groups are saying as well," she said.

Although many beneficiaries have always struggled, the situation has become more difficult for those trying to get training to get off welfare since the training incentive allowance was axed in last year's Budget for courses at level four and above - broadly anything above high-school level.

Beneficiaries studying at that level can take out student loans to cover their full course fees plus up to $1000 extra for course-related costs.

But they are not entitled to the "living costs" component of student loans of up to $163 a week.

Instead, until last year, they could get a training incentive allowance of up to $98 a week to cover costs such as childcare required for their courses.

Sara spends $90 a week on petrol to get to Unitec in Mt Albert, take her daughter to school and make frequent visits to her doctor and specialists because she has asthma and a rare genetic condition.

She also pays $12 a week for parking at Unitec and $26 a week for a home phone and internet service which she needs for her study.

Ms Apera said she could not see anything that could be cut in Sara's weekly spending. She does not smoke and has not bought an alcoholic drink since last year. She survives only by economising on food.

"On Monday I ate what was left over from my daughter's dinner. That's what I usually do," Sara said.

Most of her clothes no longer fit because she has lost so much weight. "I was a size 10. I'm a size 6 now."

SARA'S BUDGET
Income
* DPB + Temporary Additional Support (net of repayments to Work and Income for benefit advances) - $289.86 pw
* Accommodation supplement - $125.00 pw
* Family support (one child aged 12) - $86.00 pw
* Disability allowance - $16.46 pw

TOTAL - $517.32 pw

Fixed costs
* Rent (2.5-bedroom flat in West Auckland) - $295.00 pw
* Petrol (to Unitec Mt Albert 5 days pw + hospital visits etc) - $90.00 pw
* Debt repayments (credit card + HP for child's clothes & shoes) - $50.00 pw
* Power - $38.00 pw
* Child's bus home from intermediate school - $27.00 pw
* Phone/internet (required for study) - $26.00 pw
* Parking (Unitec) - $12.00 pw
* Medical costs (fixed weekly payment to friendly GP) - $10.00 pw
* Water bill - $10.00 pw
* Fines (no WOF or rego on car - still can't afford WOF) - $10.00 pw

TOTAL - $568.00 pw

Net deficit before food - $50.68 pw
Deficit allowing $100 for food - $150.68 pw