Victoria B on 18 March 2021

So upset with my universal credit coach. He's not a bad chap, he's professionally friendly and respectful but he's so unaware of his own privilege it's galling. Its less and issue of him as a person, more and issue of him as part of a system of modern day oppression. Today, during our fortnightly phone call, he booked my next phone meeting with him in two weeks, I mentioned the date he picked as "ah, the day after I get paid, I'll be in a much better spirits that day" and he said something like "yeah, everyone likes payday" to which I casually replied with "well that's the thing with universal credit, it's a monthly feel good around payday then hungry and depressed the rest of the month, until happy again next payday" to which he laughed (not laughing at me, more the casual friendly banter laugh to prelude ones own statement in polite conversation but still, ouch) and replied "oh I don't notice such things, my wife handles all that, paydays not that important to me." To which he seemed to notice his own words being insensitive by following with "I know I sometimes end up in overdraft on my card, cos I spend without thinking, but my wife sorts the statements out so it works out" like wow. So I replied "you're very fortunate."

Now I don't for a second think my universal credit coach is sitting at home rolling around in piles of cash all Scrooge McDuck style, I'm well aware that he's most likely to be on a comfortable lower middle class income, by the sounds of it probably a dual income, presumably around the 40-60k mark, as a household. But wow, what it must feel like to go shopping and not need to think about if you have money in the bank or not before you spend, not have to count as you go or worry about brands or dates or if the kids have had enough proteins for healthy development this month, just to spend and know you'll have money seems so wild to me. I nearly cried over my daughter dropping 50p down the drain on her way back from the shop this morning. 50 sodding pence. Not cos of what it is, it's just a 50p coin FFS, but cos of what it meant. It's hard telling a kid "it's okay, accidents happen, it's only 50p" when on the inside I'm reeling cos that loss now means we can't afford bread next week. The change from today's bread, she went to shop with a £2 coin and bread costs £1.30 so she only came back with 20p meaning we've 80p in my purse. Not enough for bread next week. Not the end of the world but still worthy of upset (-funny, the saying about not crying over spilt milk is less meaningful when essentials cost so much). For the man on the phone, who isn't a bad man by any means just a harmless hard worker like anyone else but he represents a privileged position within society that me and my children are statistically unlikely to achieve. He has value within society. He's not scared for his next meal or frightened of the impact of food insecurity on his children's development. And yet this man (the symbol, the system, not the person) has power over if I can feed my children next month or not. One button from him on his computer and my benefits could be stopped or reduced. He has that kind of power over me and mine and probably dozens of other families he coaches too. And yet he is so painfully unaware of his own power, his own privilege. I feel so small and unimportant when a man who most likely is a normal human, probably has his own insecurities that he turns off for work like millions of other do, probably has his own struggles and trials, a man who is my equal socially, conversationally, intellectually and technically legally. And yet due to being on benefits I am inferior to him, I talk to him and am reminded, just through the system of our talking not through anything that he says, just through the rules of the benefits game, that he can press a button and we'd be hungry. And for him to be so unaware of how much power he has over the lives of the people he must call or see to get his job done adds to the sense of my own, and others like me on benefits, our own unimportance and insignificance socio-economically. Just by being on benefits we are deemed less valuable, less important. Governments pat themselves on the backs and say "we have a welfare system, we're humane". It's horribly not enough. It's depressing.

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