Talk is cheap, show us the budget

A fascinating account in the Grauniad from a single mother struggling to afford food for her two-year-old son:

I'm struggling at the moment and it's like, "Right, what can I pay today?" And that's it; it's the bills and everyone's had their gas and electric bills go up [...] they just sent me a bill for £423 because I was paying my gas and electric bills at £38 a month and they turned around and said "We should have been charging you over £70 a month"
Clearly a lady who is having a very hard time of it, and being screwed over by incompetent energy suppliers (we've all been there) - and yet, there's an awful lot about the account that mystifies the CiF commentators:
  1. Her town doesn't have public transport between 8am and 9am when she needs to get into work - huh? no public transport in rush hour?
  2. Her £600/month rent is more-or-less covered by Housing Benefit, but only covers a bungalow; outside London, you should be looking at a 2 bed house in a reasonable area, at least, for this money.
  3. She's 43 with a 2 year old child - what happened to the father? Why isn't he paying child support?
  4. She's on the housing list - why? what's wrong with the place she has? Surely it's big enough for her and her child if it costs that much.
She was working as a care co-ordinator, which looks to be a salary of around £20k, but the aforementioned transport issues made it impossible - now if she's unemployed she'll be getting council tax covered, child benefit at £20.30/week, jobseekers allowance at £71/week and most of her housing costs are covered - even with £70/month on bills and £73/month on housing, where's the rest going such that she only has £35/month in food? She has no transport costs that I can see. Even if diapers, clothes etc. take £100/month she's still got £100 clear for food as far as I can see. That's not a lot, but it's a heckuva lot more than she claims she has.

What would be really interesting is to see the monthly incomings and outgoings broken down. I wonder if she's got credit card or other unsecured debt that's taking a chunk from her income. It would also be interesting to get some hard figures on her additional costs if she regains, say, a £18K job. How much of her benefits would she lose, what would be her marginal tax rate, how much would the childcare impact her income vs the tax credits. The fact that the article is silent on a lot of the figures has made a lot of commentators suspect that there's a lot more going on here than we're being told.

Commentator HybridMoments compares the figures with a situation he or she knows:

My partner is a single parent of a three-year old and receives £590 per month to fully cover the rent of her 2-bedroom house. She also receives her own benefit allowance, child benefit, has her council tax paid and receives various vouchers that are able to be spent on fresh food in various supermarkets. [...] The father of the child has never contributed a penny to anything. Her parents are not in a position to contribute financially. [...] And, yet, she can afford £50 per week for food and has at least one night out per week (albeit that she really only takes £10) out.
There does seem to be a significant financial discrepancy between the two cases, and it would be very instructive to know where they diverge.

The biggest factor in her poverty, however, is nailed by commentator xyzzy:

I'm sorry to sound heartless, but why has a 43 year old woman got a 2 year old son with no mention, at all, of a father? There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it's clearly material as to why the father isn't either present or paying maintenance.

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