As you may already know from my campaigning, my husband and I are both Self Employed and Low Paid.We have 4 sons: 3 still living at home, the youngest is autistic. While I see many families better off than we are: there are thousands for whom real grinding poverty is a 365 days 24/7 reality.
Let's talk about the children .Our kids. Already Government rhetoric is ramping up and hardening for anyone who dares to have more than 2 children. Last time I looked I thought we lived in the UK not China! It is deemed "reckless" to have more than 2, and there is every indication if a Tory Government is elected in 2015, Child Benefit will be curtailed to 2 children only. It must be because of those fantastically high figures of ooh 180 families in the UK who have 10+ kids!
I have a friend with 3 children between 7-15. She and her husband lost their jobs last autumn. Both are looking for work daily. After having seen life as employed people she tells me of life now.
"I just feel terrible for the kids. There are no treats. For example, when they come home from school with a party invitation, I have to decline, because we can't afford the birthday present for the birthday child. And I mean something for less than £3. It's embarrassing. It costs £2.50 per child to go swimming at the local pool, that's out of our reach now. And as for school trips, my kids are now in a majority of the class who don't go on them as we can't afford to.
My mum lives locally. The kids go round to her house for tea twice a week: nothing wrong in that you say:but it's out of necessity not because they're visiting their Gran. We can't afford to feed them 7 days a week and so she helps out, Either that or we will have to ask for help from the FoodBank. The difference between being employed and unemployed is that there is no room in the budget for anything other than bills and food costs kept to a minimum. School Uniform is a nightmare. I try and put away £2 per week towards it. I am not saying for one minute, that we should be entitled to a high standard of living whilst on benefit, but this is not living. It is just about existing and the existence is even hanging by a thread. It is like being on a never -ending production line of poverty. We need jobs - anything will do - and we need them now."
For me, I am finding the "extra's" increasingly difficult to find. There is a £350 France Trip my third son would like to go on, but I have had to say no this year. The Family Fund have paid 6 months worth of Drama School fees for my autistic son: a huge outlet for him and he has progressed so much I would hate these Saturday mornings to end but it is a £100 per month expense and the remaining 6 months will be paid for from his DLA. We will do anything to make sure these continue. Teenagers clothes are pricey. While designer tags are out of reach, it is still a hard task to kit the boys out. Matalan have come into their own, but clothes have gone up in price hugely over the past few years! Trainers are a nightmare too and I bargain hunt on eBay for the labels at reduced prices.
People take for granted, eating out occasionally, a cinema trip, bowling night. All these have been lessened considerably. Whilst many class mates jetted off for Easter, that is beyond our reach. My youngest son was 14 a few days ago. We managed a lunch out for 4 of us at a set price carvery and some ice creams at a local nature reserve village. As he is autistic a box of retro sweets as a present was his only wish and he was delighted with it. But his brother's birthday is next month and he wanted 5 friends to go Paintballing. The cost is £30 for each child and we cannot afford to do that. But I feel guilty this is beyond our reach, and guilty again when I think of families visiting Foodbanks who would think this treat an absolutely dire waste of money whilst people are going hungry. I am angry that "work" is getting us by, but no more than that.
My son will be 16 in 2 years time and will face a transfer from DLA -PIP. Will he be "autistic" enough to get the standard care rate even? Will his means of support to a life as an independent disabled adult be stopped before it has begun? Horrifyingly will he have to become MORE dependent on us as parents just because the state recognises him as an adult at 16 and not 18?
My third son is a talented cricketer and has played for Wales since he was 11. Cricket is a hugely expensive sport especially at National level as Wales are based in Cardiff : a 3.5 hour trip from us in N Wales. He is friends with an 18 year old lad with some learning difficulties at our local cricket club. They both play senior cricket on the weekend and I have given the other lad my son's old cricket equipment he has grown out of, as this lad is painfully thin for his age. I volunteer my help for admin in the club and the first thing this lad says is: "I can't afford to sign on with the club this year as I cannot afford the subscription fees" (£75 per yr and £30 for students/unwaged) I always waive the fees for him, but then he cannot afford to pay the £7 cricket tea fees on the weekend either or a contribution for the minibus hire for away matches. He pretends he does not want to eat, in order to avoid payment so the club subsidises him. The senior lads 18+ always stop off for a pint on the way home from away games : he has no money but feels ashamed when other lads offer to buy him a drink. He cannot participate in this sport without 100% help from others. It is wrong!
Finally I know a local couple in their late 40's. The male has an alcohol problem and is recurrently in and out of hospital. His partner is disabled and has the added onus of coping with his addiction. They lived in a 2 bedroom flat but have now had to move 20 miles away to privately rent a 1 bedroom flat due to the Bedroom Tax. Last week they ran out of food and reluctantly walked 4 miles to a Foodbank for help. The rent on the 1 bed flat was more than the rent on the 2 bedroomed previous flat and is being paid for by Housing Benefit. Not a saving by the Government but an extra cost! Who benefited from it? Not the couple or the Government! Three months ago he was found by police after threatening to commit suicide through both his addiction and the sheer despair of what he termed "existing" not living.
This is what poverty and Low Pay in Austerity UK is about: Exisiting and Getting By. It comes to a terrible point when some cannot afford food, and a feeling of guilt as a parent when school trips are denied and new trainers a burden to provide. You feel a personal failure. I am ANGRY at how both Jobseekers and the Low paid are becoming increasingly marginalised by the Government, both in rhetoric and perception in the media. The Government are about to embark on unchartered waters by taking on the Low Paid Workers who are "not striving enough" to increase their hours and pay and so the Government think sanctions or even a termination of Tax Credits is the answer.
I am ready and waiting for the fight Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg. Come and take me on!