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One pay cheque away from poverty

Updated: May 22, 2022

Over the past few days there has been lots of discussions and fallouts over the MPs vote to extend the free school meals scheme outside of school time up to Easter 2021. The motion was defeated by 261 votes to 322. The names of the MPs who voted against the motion have been published in every newspaper up and down the country allowing the public to ‘name and shame’ them. Lots of MPs who did vote against have defended themselves saying that enough money has already been allocated to the welfare system. One MP stated that Universal Credit has now been increased by £1000 per year per family; local housing allowance have increased their funds by £180m to help families struggling with rent; £63m given to councils to use for local welfare assistance; £16m to food charities. I fall into the Universal Credit band being a solo parent, and I can definitely confirm that we have had no such increase; just the constant messing up of figures each month. Same problems, different system!

I have been a solo parent for over 13 years now. When my husband first left, I was a full time mum with two toddlers aged 3 and 17 months and pregnant with our third child. We lived a nice ‘middle class’ life, large house, two cars. In the blink of an eye all of that was taken away. There was no preparation, no savings to fall back on, no warning, just overnight I was left homeless with tiny people to look after.

I remember sitting in an office with the Citizens Advice Bureau who helped me work through a lot of financial matters. They handed me an application form for food parcels and I felt physically sick that I could no longer feed my own children, or myself. It was the most degrading feeling that I’ve ever experienced as a human being. More than standing in front of a judge and declaring yourself bankrupt, more than being handed an eviction notice on your nice suburban house, more than handing the keys over to a car that you could no longer afford. Being able to look after, clothe and feed your children is one of the most maternal things that there is. So imagine that being taken away from you.

I didn’t fill the form in. My pride was too great. Instead we grew food, shopped with supermarket value produce, sold everything that we could and I went many meals without eating so that my children could.

I have read many arguments from MPs and the public, both for and against the extension of free school meals. ‘They [parents] need to spend less on gin and more on food’. ‘Surely a parent can feed a child’. ‘If they [parents] can’t afford them [children] they shouldn’t have had them’. ‘Many times a child’s only meal is at school’. ‘The government should be supporting the vulnerable’. Believe me, in my experience as a parent and talking to other parents, accepting help takes a lot of strength. Needing government ‘handouts’ in order to feed your family is not something that anyone wishes for their life. One day I'll blog about the little support that solo parents receive, both financially and in the world of work.

The facts are that this is a pandemic. There are many families who for them, this time is a living hell. Jobs taken from them like a bolt out of the blue. No preparation. No savings to fall back on. No warning. Just overnight, life changes just like that.

So should we not support those families who have been living so close to the poverty line before now? Those families who have lived in rented housing for years because they don’t earn enough to scrape a large deposit together for a house. Those families who can’t save because they are busy pouring everything they have into their own children. Those families who were already on minimum wage and a zero hours contract who savings and pensions were a long held dream.

This pandemic has thrown many things at us. But instead of us gathering closer as a nation we seem to be more divisive than ever. The North/South divide. The poor/rich divide. The opposite sides of a fence. The MPs for/against. The publication of the MPs names has meant that they have become targeted by lots of angry people. The families who are struggling are left feeling unsupported, anxious at how they are going to feed a family, keep a roof over their heads and pay bills. Those looking on are left wondering how they can help, how their voice and action can make a difference in this crisis.

Thank you to all those private businesses, hotels, restaurants and individuals who have offered free meals to those who cannot afford them. One of my friends suggested that one way that we can help support those independent businesses is by buying a meal for a family.

If you have, share what you have. If you don’t have, don’t be ashamed. Life has pretty much sucked for the past 8 months. It’s OK to accept help. Everyone needs help. Whether it’s a meal or two, a shoulder to cry on, a hug (albeit it virtual at the moment) and a kind word. So please give yourself a break and remember that kindness starts with you being kind to yourself.

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This is SO good, Dawn. I hope many people will read this and comment, and that it will become a force toward making a change in the system.

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