Not an hour ago, I had to wipe away my tears and paint on a terrible, fake smile for my five year old daughter. I have a very honest approach to parenting; I try to lie to my kids as little as possible, so when she asked me if daddy was going to have to go to live in a different house, I gently hugged her, smiled and said “I really don’t know.” Daddy hasn’t done anything wrong, neither has mummy. Communication hasn’t broken down, nor has our tolerance for one another. The simple fact is; we can’t afford to live together any more. As I sit here now, I hate myself for the fact that in a stressed, teary cloud I just spent £3.33 on a packet of cigarettes. I successfully quit smoking over a week ago. My son just asked me for a packet of crisps or failing that, a banana. I don’t have either and this week, they’re non-essential items, so I won’t be able to buy them. He made do with a tangerine, that has a day or two left in it and walked off happily. Shakily I went to light my cigarette on the gas stove. As it lit, the gas ran out, cue me bursting into tears again. I’ll have to go into my overdraft to buy some more.
My children’s dad Ben works fifty hours a week as a manager at an electrical wholesaler store in the city on minimum wage. The rent for the one bedroom flat that we all cram into is over £1,000 a month, bills are just shy of £400 not including food, clothing, school money or gas and the sole earner in our house earns £1,086 each month. Go figure. Until this point, we’ve scraped by with me doing odd jobs for cash, that has just about kept our heads above the water. Ben has nearly £40,000 worth of student debt and still lives in the overdraft of his student bank account from when he was a student over three years ago, for which of course he’s now paying ridiculous interest rates on. I’m on the other end of the scale and can’t mentally cope with being in my overdraft by more than £10 for more than a day or two. I suppose that’s about to change now. Until today, we’ve been getting a reasonable amount of help from Tax credits. Last year our tax credits were cut by £120, leaving us with £140 a week to live on. Like I said before, I’ve been doing odd jobs to subsidise this, as it just wasn’t getting us through the week, never mind birthdays, half terms and Christmases. Each year, Ben gets a bonus in June, which we use to go on a small family break to the Isle of Wight. Last year, he got £2,300, which was taxed 40%. We struggled on that holiday, but we made the most of it.
Today, my Tax credits have been cut again by £40 a week. Last year’s bonus, as far as inland revenue and customs is concerned, was a £2,000 a year pay increase. An adult in the UK is supposed to live on around £60 a week according to government guidelines. We’re now officially below the breadline. The thing that angers me, is that these payment reductions never come with a warning. They just happen and you receive the dreaded brown envelope days later, confirming your fate. Last week it was my son’s birthday. I bought a basic cake that was so cheap and disgusting, no one ate it. I got him the most modest amount of presents I ever have done before and we took him out for the day. I now truly wish that I hadn’t. Following the birthday, I had to let my account slip into the red. “It’s okay!” I told myself. “We’ll just have a bit less to live on next week.” Due to the reduction, I now have £40 to buy gas and feed my family with this week.
When I was a single mother on benefits, I received £34.40 a week child benefit, £120 odd a week in Tax credits and £140 fortnightly in income support, as well as having my full rent and council tax paid for. Don’t get me wrong, it still wasn’t easy. I had no luxuries like the internet, all my furniture was second hand and a relative paid for my television license. Realistically, I didn’t know how good I had it. How can it be, that in 2016 in one of the richest nations in the world, a single mother on full welfare benefits is better off than a working family? Despite any faults, Ben works long and hard, rarely seeing his children and for what? The conservatives spout their utter bollocks about being the party for working families; that working families would reap the benefits. What a detrimental, disgusting lie. Being a savvy socialist, I never fell for their lines in the first place and I hold the welfare state dear in my heart as one of this country’s greatest assets, but the situation as it is, is far beyond anything I ever could have imagined. Ever since the day I was no longer a lone parent, we have felt the brunt of cut, after cut, after cut. We’ve had tax credits cut several times, stopped completely for weeks on end, sent to food banks, we’ve had to repay overpayments but Tax credits that were no fault of our own, we’ve had Tax credits feeding the council misinformation about our entitlement, resulting in us overpaying our rent for a year, the council taking three months to resolve these situations and pay anything to our landlord, who put pressure on us to pay up in the meantime, with then no rebate from the council, we’ve had our names removed from the prescription tax exemption certificate with no warning, resulting in unknowing prescription fraud, which has incurred fines that we’ve been unable to pay, thus having to pay extortionate interest fees. I can’t afford much needed dental work, I can’t afford to have my pets neutered because I’m not on benefits, my son can’t go to nursery because I’m not on benefits, I can’t physically see a financial or housing advisor at our local authority, again because I’m not on benefits and our names have been removed from the council house waiting list. All this, because I wanted my kid’s to have the most basic thing that any child deserves. A mother and a father under the same roof.
So what are my options? To go on living like this? To make do with £100 per week, while I desperately take any dodgy cash in hand jobs, working for sleazy men where I can get them? To kick my kid’s dad out, go on Job Seekers Allowance, under constant threat of sanctions, because I have no childcare, so can’t actually work until September 2017 when my son is in full time education, when even then I will have to pay for some kind of before and after school childcare out of whatever measly wages I manage to get? I just don’t know. For now, for today, I’ll just keep fighting back my tears if I can. Today, that’s all I can do.
By The Breadline Mum