The days leading up to and following an election are always strange, tense, and full of arguments. This time is no different, in fact this time nobody is really sure whether to celebrate, mourn, or just keep drinking.
Today I was asked on a Facebook discussion about benefits, food banks, and tax brackets ‘why did you have a child if you can’t afford to feed it?’. Obviously the lovely Max Off Of Facebook did say ‘not to cause offence’ first. So I’m not offended…
Well, Max Off Of Facebook, do you want to know how I found myself two years ago crying in a doctor’s office as he signed a piece of paper that meant I was entitled to a food bank voucher two years ago?
I was young when I got pregnant. And pretty irresponsible. My free time was mostly spent drinking tequila, wearing six inch heels, and chasing boys. One way I wasn’t irresponsible however was with work. I worked my arse off in two jobs (a pub and a hotel. You know what’s fun? A 2am Saturday finish followed by a 7am Sunday start.) clocking around 50-60 hours a week through the summer. It was full on but it meant I could afford to live. And drink. Then I got pregnant, which changed my life massively. I dropped one of the jobs because, obviously, but was still working 40 hour weeks on my feet. I was paying my taxes.
I had my baby, and took maternity leave that I was entitled to. And I had a partner who could earn enough to support us for a while. Then my life took a huge shift. In brief there was cheating, moving across country, finally being diagnosed with PND 6 months late, and being dropped on my mum’s doorstep clutching a baby, a bag of baby clothes and £8 in my bank account.
That was when I had my first experience with the benefit system. And thank fuck it was there. The benefit system gave me and my daughter a chance to get back on our feet, to have a home of our own, to be able to eat. And for the record, anybody who thinks it’s easy to get £100s off the government for sitting on your arse, it couldn’t be more opposite. I spent hours crying in the Job Centre, I had to borrow months worth of rent off of incredible friends because housing benefit takes so long to come through, I still barely had enough money to cover rent, bills and food.
We got ourselves sorted, and I went back to work. I paid for nursery. I went back to paying taxes.
Living in Cornwall, and having no official qualifications to speak of, work is limited. I loved my job but working in hospitality you only have so far you can go, so much you can earn. I wanted more for me and my daughter. I knew she deserved more. So I made the decision to go to university.
I did my Access Course (working between studying). I applied for universities. I got in. I moved myself and my daughter to a town where we knew nobody and started studying.
This time I didn’t work. Because I didn’t have the family support to help out, because I couldn’t afford more childcare than I was already paying for uni, and because frankly studying and parenting was hard enough!
One major problem, the loans company. Who year after year, term after term, screwed up. They lost documents, they forgot I was a lone parent, they suddenly decided I had to prove I lived alone. They didn’t pay me a penny and the tiny amount of savings I had dwindled fast.
That’s when I found myself sobbing in the doctor’s office. I had skimmed bottom a few times, but this time it felt like I had hit it face-first at 60mph. I had nothing and I didn’t know what to do.
I’m sorry, Max Off Of Facebook, that my circumstances changed over the course of four years.
I’m sorry, Max Off Of Facebook, that I had to ask for help to feed my daughter.
I’m sorry, Max Off Of Facebook, that I hadn’t seen into the future, predicted this, and aborted my child.
Any one of us could end up relying on the state.
We could all lose our job, our home, our health. We could all need some help to find our way back.
Thankfully I have found my way back, I was one of the lucky ones. Where would we be now if we hadn’t had the assistance we are lucky enough to have in this country?
Oh, and I never used that Food Bank voucher. Because after public abuse from somebody I once considered a friend my true friends banded together, sent me food parcels, Sainsbury’s orders, and bottles of wine.
We still make a point of filling a basket for the Food Bank donation every few weeks though.
There but for the grace of God go I.
There but for the love of others would I still be.
To learn more about how Food Banks work, where to donate, and what your local Food Bank needs check The Trussell Trust. Add a few bits to your next shop, you won’t miss the fiver but it can make such a difference to somebody else.