Meg T on 16 May 2021

Feeling in a reflective mood today after completing the big question of the week. Not only that but I have been doing some antipoverty campaigning and it's reminded me of the fact that when I started campaigning back in 2018, but I actually thought poverty was a personal failing. I didn't actually know that I was living in poverty until some of the literature I had been reading actually tipped me off.

Even when I was employed full time, money was always tight. I was married at the time and I jointly owned my own home with my then husband. But we had access to credit if needed and we managed. We had my two older children together but then family breakdown ensued.

My first husband and I divorced. I was able to take on the mortgage by myself and again I was managing. But that was my first foray into using credit cards. But back then it was all under control.

I then met and married my second husband. I sold my home and me and my boys moved in with him, not realising what was to come. We married and had a son together, who is now 16.

But due to domestic violence, I had to flee the marital home when my youngest boy was just seven months old. I fled with my children, my car and the clothes on our backs. We ended up living in a hostel. I was on unpaid maternity leave. And I suppose that's when the descent into poverty started. Although upon reflection it probably started whilst I was still married to my second husband due to the level of financial abuse I was subjected to. I was expected to hand over all of my wages and the only money I was allowed to keep was the child benefit, with which I was expected to feed the family and buy nappies for the baby, in return for room and board for me and my children. I was not privy to any financial decision making, whereas in my first marriage everything was jointly decided and we both kept separate bank accounts. But by the time I realised what I'd walked into it was too late.

Furthermore, the rules on divorce settlements had recently changed, so by the time I receive my divorce settlement of approximately £5,500, I was obliged to pay back £2 500 for the legal aid that I had received during divorce proceedings. So already I was off on the back foot never quite managing to catch up. Over the years, I have never received child maintenance in sufficient quantity to provide for the children. I used to receive £20 per week for my two older boys, with no uprating whatsoever and £25 per week for my youngest child, until his father ended up on disability benefits. And now I receive £6 per week approximately - the maximum amount permissible to be deducted from his disability benefits. Yet he works for his wife in her business and therefore his true income and profit he made from the sale of the marital home has been hidden from the child maintenance service. Furthermore the child maintenance service charge a fee for the collection and payment of maintenance I think the level is 4% at the moment. It feels like I'm being punished for trying to keep me and my son is safe by not having to directly contact his father. Furthermore, being taken to Family Court 4 times in 10 years to resolve issues of contact without access to legal aid strained the credit card debt even further.

Fast forward to 2021, at this point in time I have been disabled for 10 years and I have had to fight to secure sufficient levels of Social Security. Initially I didn't even realise I could apply for disability benefits because I didn't know that I was disabled enough. But I knew something was wrong when trying to work whilst disabled negatively impacted my mental health to the point I burned out. Initially I had been refused ESA even though I had had spinal surgery for a chronic incurable neurological condition. This plunged me into poverty as I had become liable for paying rent and council tax with money I simply didn't have.

Had it not been for the work coach (I had been put into the ESA work related activity group) who suggested I should apply I would not have known. It took a tribunal hearing to be successful, I managed to get into the Support Group. Similarly, with DLA, I was turned down and had to go to tribunal. I won. When DLA changed to PIP, I was refused. Another tribunal ensued - it took a year but I won again. But even though I won, I lost my entitlement to my Motability car, which plunged me into more debt as I borrowed to purchase it and has struggled to keep it on the road re tax, insurance and servicing etc.

It took me four years to pluck up the courage to tell the DWP that I was deteriorating because I was worried about losing everything that I had fought so hard to gain. It was a huge risk and I was terrified I would end up having to go through a fourth tribunal.

But finally, after battling the DWP for seven years or thereabouts I am now in receipt of full disability benefits: ESA (support group) including disability income guarantee and severe disability premium), housing benefit (although I am liable for bedroom tax now), Council tax reduction as I am a single occupant with one dependent, PIP - enhanced care and enhanced mobility, which means I am now eligible for the Motability Scheme once again. So this time, I've ordered a wheelchair accessible vehicle. And I've qualified for a grant to cover the initial advance payment and all adaptations. I'm over the moon. It also feels like justice for all the hardship that me and my family have endured.

Whether it's a case of good luck, stubbornness or tenacity - I can't say. What I will say is that it shouldn't have had to be so hard. I don't understand why it had to be so hard. The UK is a wealthy country and can afford to care for those who need assistance. It is the compassionate and right thing to do even if somebody can't work any more, their life still has worth and meaning. I cannot work any more, but I have produced three sons that can and do and will contribute to society and the public purse for the whole of their working lives just as I did. And even if someone cannot contribute to the public purse, surely they are still worthy of our help and assistance. It's just the right thing to do. And this is why I simply cannot abide the government's stance on austerity because it is punishing those least able to weather the storms had come with it.

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