The Budget and Me!June 23, 2010
When I started this blog, I had recently finished working as a social worker.
As a social worker, I earned 21k pro rata down to 30 hours a week. I worked 30 hours a week contracted, and some weeks up to 20-30 on top at home. I had a caseload of 18 children, many of whom were subject to Child Protection plans. The ones who were not subject to child protection plans, were living in situations where the threshold of risk was nightmarish. 1 day of my working week, I attended university to complete a post qualifying award, which would allow me to increase my salary.
As a single parent I did this job- and managed my child and house. I say managed- because I don’t describe the two hours a day that I saw my daughter, two hours usually preoccupied with either ringing someone I owed money to, or sorting my house- as parenting.
When my salary hit the bank, it paid my childcare bill, and most of my rent. After I had paid my childcare, and my rent- with the help of Local Housing Allowance, my income, to run my house, go to work, feed and clothe my child- was £145 per week. In a job where I was constantly subsidising and meeting little costs incurred in doing the work-the cost of kids bus fare, a mothers breast pads, a cup of coffee for a client….
I accepted that poverty was part of parenting a pre-school age child on my own. When I was exhausted and weighed 6 stone, had severe stomach problems, and was barely sleeping, my doctor advised me to give up work.
I came home. While not working, I lived on £127 per week. For the first time since my daughter was born, while I had no money, I had time to get to know her. I had time to parent her. This year has been wonderful. I was better off not because I didn’t pay council tax, or have the cost of working but because I got to spend real time with my daughter, for the first time since she was born.
But it is ingrained in me that I should work.
I set myself up as a ‘writer, and started to get copywriting work. Not vast amounts- but certainly enough to justify registering as self employed. Enough so that I am starting to bring in a relatively steady stream of money. I still get full Local Housing Allowance, it contributes about 75 percent of my £500 rent at the moment- that goes down if I earn more, as it should. I pay the difference. It is a hefty chunk out of my disposable income.
I don’t have any more money than I had on Income Support- but I earn it. My eye has always been on the day where I could return to work full time.
Rachel starts school this September, and I got myself a full time job. Yay!
Then the budget happened.
LHA rules have been changed. o0pkmInstead of contributing to the rent of a house with a rent at the median of local rents, they will only help with the cost of rent up to 30 centile of the local rents.
This detail was lost under a great deal of fanfare about housing benefit paying people to live in mansions.
This takes approximately £20 a week out of my current income. With the VAT increase, and whatever happens with prices in the next few months- I don’t know how I will manage. THe only way I was managing, was by keeping my eye on September- when I could feel the benefit of a salary.
I had hoped to be slightly better off when I got back to work. The cost of after school clubs, and breakfast clubs, is slightly less than the cost of full time childcare. However, the change in LHA rules- means that the slightly better off that I had assumed would happen- is also gone. I will be worse off than when I was working last time.
I have just put the phone down. The job is no longer there. To prepare for cuts of 25percent across the board, they cannot risk hiring new staff.
Evenif I had started- I cannot physically earn enough to take me above the income level of someone on income support.
I am now going to be competing in a labour market flooded with the people who will be laid off as part of these cuts, in a profession with widespread recruitment freezes. I am the candidate who might have to dissapear because my daughter is ill, and the candidate who may not be able to do late night emergency calls- because I have a child at home.
I did every thing ‘right’.
I left home at 16, and knew that education was the key. I stayed at school, even though it meant living on £25 per week income support.
I had assumed when I finished school, I would never need benefits again.
I never stopped working. Apart from a few months of travelling, which I paid for. I didn’t even consider having a child, until I was financially secure, prepared, and married. I trained for a career I was passionate about. I worked hard. I went to university, and borrowed £12k to do so.
And this doesn’t feel quite real. I heard the Lib Dems on telly last night, saying this was progressive, and I don’t quite know how to process the magnitude of what has just happened to my life- and my future.
This isn’t sink or swim economics. I don’t have the choice of sinking. I exist. And so does my daughter. But I don’t have the choice to swim either. If I work, I am in poverty. If I can get work. If I don’t, I am in poverty. My daughter is in poverty. Unless she goes to live with her dad. The poverty could be eased by moving away from the community we are part of, or finding a relationship which will bring financial security.
David Cameron has been talking about how to make sure the system doesn’t reward people for not ‘doing the right thing’ by staying married, and in the spending review, Frank Field and Iain Duncan Smith, are anxious to remove the ‘couples penalty’ from tax credits.
THey calculate this couples penalty by looking at net state support, but with no consideration for the cost of childcare or rent, or the earnings potential of a single person with responsibility for a child.
I am not just a ‘single parent’. I am an intelligent woman, a good mother, and I am more than that.
Except I am not more than that. I have woken up to find I am society’s garbage. And with increasing regularity, people feel free to tell me that. I suppose it feels easier to do so if the Prime Minister tells you I am part of the reason Britain is broken.
The only difference between a single mother, and a married one, is a partner. Another adult to earn money, or take responsibility for some of the domestic. The benefit ‘trap’ they are removing, is the thing that kept me and many of my friends working.
This is not a budget blog which deals with the wider economic issues of a deflationary budget, in a country with no private sector economic growth, and whose trading partners are also introducing austerity measures. This not a worry about deflationary spirals, or property bubbles which haven’t burst. I can’t get my head round that right now- because I am sat here with a calculator- not wondering how the budget might affect me- but wondering how I am supposed to survive.
I am not writing this because I want people to feel sorry for me. I don’t like this post being up here, and this blog was supposed to be about more than being a ‘poor single mother’, I didn’t see myself like that. But this is the reality behind the rhetoric of fairness and it doesn’t seem very damn fair to me, or my daughter, or the thousands of women in the same position.