Caroline is a participant in the Covid Realities project and is a mum to one child. She is trying to improve her life and her child’s life experiences whilst keeping on top of a very tight income, poor support and daily worries. She lives in a rural area in Northern Ireland with poor infrastructure and services.
I feel like our government isn’t listening to us or they truly don’t care. The £20 cut will have a long lasting impact on our children and on our own mental and physical wellbeing. Many of us manage to budget fairly well on an extremely tight budget - but how are we expected to improve on this when we’ll have even less to live on? Does society think it is ok that we celebrate foodbanks? Yes, they do a magnificent job in ensuring people are fed, but are there really no better alternatives? For example, giving people choice and autonomy, supporting them to pay off their debts, supporting to them get gainful employment not just any employment. Let's not forget this... we are all entitled to benefits and many of us are never more than one pay cheque away from needing support. Furlough was a Government benefit to fund peoples wages when they couldn’t work. Child benefit is also a benefit. It is only right that UC is there to cushion us all - but it doesn’t. Living on UC makes life very hard and makes it difficult to get out of the poverty trap.
On the 30th September we read that the Government had announced a £500m discretionary scheme for local councils to award grants to struggling households to purchase FOOD, CLOTHING and HEATING. These are the most basic necessities that so many will now not be able to afford because of this £20 a week cut to UC. It feels like many are being forced into an Oliver Twist scenario where help is taken from one hand and you have to beg for it with the other. How does this effectively support people to learn how to manage their budget? How does it give dignity and support? Many have been through other discretionary award systems and the questions are demeaning and just bring shame on parents who just want the best for their children. No parent wants to have to answer questions like ‘what food have you got in, how much money do you have left, what did you spend it on?’
I work 40 hours a week but I am self employed and my income can go up and down. That means the level of support I get goes up and down too. I never have any surplus left over and that’s with the £20 a week. What I now face is ‘what is there to cut back on or give up?’ Internet, Car? I need these as I live in a rural area and I need them for my work. So the next option is to cut back on heating or food… Well we need to eat, so we’ll have to cut back on the heating. We will just have to sit wrapped in blankets when we are eating at the table. UC is never paid on the same day or date, so you are always having to think ahead and plan for any direct debits to ensure the money is there, even though you may not know your UC payment dates until two days before your award for the month. What does that do to a child’s mental health when they are cold and we can’t put the heating on? This isn’t about us: if you listen to us, we are really asking why our children have to pay the price for poor budgeting by our government?
I am trying to educate myself to get out of this trap and the need to rely on UC, but it is exhausting and difficult. I live in a rural area where jobs are poorly paid. I’m looking at the possibility of having to move to be able to increase my chances of a new job, but that is down the line. I just want a better future for myself and my child.