The Benefits Cap. Why not just shoot us single parents now?!

I like Facebook. I like to see what friends and family are up to. I like to share a few things like pictures of my girl with people I know. It’s a great platform for sharing things in general. Today I saw a post that frightened me greatly.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-dewar/single-parents-with-babie_1_b_12799568.html?1478270983&

I was obviously aware of the new benefit reforms but not in this amount of detail. I didn’t know exactly how they would harm so many lives in relation to people in my position until I read this report. As a single parent of one child, I don’t think, currently, I will lose any money each week. (I could be wrong of course but I think I must come within the cap limit. If wrong, please feel free to correct me.)

However, there are some women with 2, 3 or more children, who have been made a single parent not through choice, who will now have money deducted from them weekly, taking into account the new cap limit, meaning they will be worse off and will struggle even more than they already do. The report admits that this will leave families at risk of losing their homes, being unable to pay their bills or rent, with losses in income estimated at about £60 per week. I know the value of living off £60 per week as a single parent to one child, so I can’t imagine the difficulty people much face when forced to lose this amount of money. Especially after being used to it and having already built their initial foundation of how they live around it. The simple fact is kids cost money. Take it away, how do you clothe and feed them?

Most people have already set up their living arrangements based on the income they already get, meaning the rent will now not get paid as that deducted money will have to be covered out of other benefits and on goes the cycle of juggling money around to make ends meet, to cover bill deadlines, to feed the kids, until something doesn’t get paid, until the kids don’t get fed, until the rent isn’t covered on time. That is how it starts. One missed rent payment leads to possible eviction. Eviction leads to homelessness. (Imagine that with 3 kids in tow.) Homelessness leads to fear and desperation. Fear leads to vulnerability. Desperation leads to prostitution. Prostitution leads to vulnerability. Vulnerability leads to danger. Danger leads to loss, death or illness. Sound extreme? It can happen and does. A lot.

Not paying the bills leads to bailiffs knocking at your door with the kids watching. Bailiffs being called leads to personal possessions being taken away and never seen again to cover the arrears of the bills you can no longer pay. Losing your things leads to borrowing money from dangerous and willing loan sharks, at eye watering interest rates as most will have no other option in this situation to cover the loss of the possessions taken that are so necessary to everyday functioning in this day and age. (We need a washing machine to clean our kids clothes. We need a computer to look for the jobs you are so quick to push us into before we are ready or able.) Borrowing like this leads to significant mounting debt that stands no chance of being paid off. Mounting debt leads to massive amounts of stress. Stress and a general lack of hope can lead to depression. Depression and no alternative can lead to death in some severe cases. Sound over the top? It is not. It happens when pushed. A lot.

Stress is the one thing that is actually most likely to hold people back from gaining the right employment. To be not properly supported and then be expected to hold down a job is just not realistic. Whilst the government are busy penalizing people for daring to have fallen on hard times, how is that going to help them to become the working citizens you expect us all to be? Who wants to live in a world where we are made to feel hopeless and are punished if we ever DARE to find ourselves in a position like I am that I didn’t ask for? The benefits system is supposed to be a fall back for when you need it. There are people who say how proud they are that they have never had to use it. Well lucky you. We are not all so fortunate.

And what about the children? It’s all very well saying “Dont have kids until you can pay for them yourself”. This isnt Cinderella. We all know, deep down, that life is not that simple. Some women are raped and anti-abortion so keep the child whilst dealing with the aftermath mentally of that horrifying ordeal for the rest of their life. Other women work really hard for a family and get abandoned by men who claimed they were the world but in time had no intention of sticking around leaving the woman to do all the hard stuff by herself as the child gets older. Others fall pregnant even with the safest and most assured methods of contraception. It can’t always be planned in the way the fairy tales or society tells us it should be. Meet, date, consummate, get engaged, buy a house, get married, start a family, live happily ever after. Yeah that sounds great, in reality it happens to very few of us. Punishing people for this all just leads to one big mess and who suffers? The people who were the last people who needed benefit cuts. Single parents with children under five and the children they carry with them. Single parents who really need the help with children under school age. Its ludicrous this had been deemed acceptable. It’s the last place the cuts should have been made.

I understand fully that cuts NEEDED to be made SOMEWHERE. But this is all wrong. Why do I see people in my area who have never worked a day in their life, sat outside at all hours, in their pyjamas, smoking pot and drinking all day whilst claiming DLA. Are they disabled? No. Could they work? Yes. Are they lazy and choose to claim disability  to get out of work? You know it. Are they wasting their benefits on unnecessary drugs and vices? Of course. Openly. Why are they not having their weekly income cut or abolished completely? How do they slip through the system yet innocent parents that really need support get punished so that society feels better about them existing? It madness. Cuts could have been made else where.

I have worked none stop since I was 16, right up until I had my daughter at 26. When I stopped working, due to there being no free childcare for under 2 year olds and having no family around us to GIVE us free childcare, my partner worked instead. The plan was ALWAYS supposed to be that once she hit nursery age, with his income already in place, anything I earned part-time over those two days she was attending would be an extra bit of income that would benefit our family, allowing us both to work and contribute. Unfortunately, from age 2, before our daughter started nursery, he left us. Is that my fault? Should I be punished for this? Do you think I enjoyed through the personal grief having to admit I would now join a group of society on Income Support that were belittled and looked down upon? Should I be made to feel any worse than I already have done since we watched him go and knew we would from that point onwards struggle just to eat properly?

I can hear some of you saying “Well she’s in nursery now, why don’t you just work now?”. People have said this to me too. Yes, she gets (on paper) 15 hours of free childcare per week. Due to it being an all year round nursery and with the staff rates being taken into account, they spread this out over the year, meaning she actually gets 12 hours per week, over 2 days, from 9am-3pm. So for me to “just go to work”, with not much outside help to fit around what I needed to be able to do to work, I would have to either find a job for just those hours (not taking travel time into account), earning less than I receive now as I wouldn’t meet the 16 hours requirement for working tax credits to be exempt from these cuts, or I would have to work 16 hours plus per week, paying out of that income for an extra day at nursery, again making me no better off or possibly worse off. On top of this, finding a job to fit with her nursery hours and collections will be hard in itself.

I have heard so many people, and friends, with young children themselves saying “We do it, why should you sit on your arse all day”. So many people go on Facebook rants about how lazy single parents are and how if they have to work then so should we. Firstly, anyone doing it properly never sits on their arse. Its full-time. You know this. You have children yourselves. You do a good job too. You know it aint easy. Secondly, you answered your own question. “WE do it.” Together. As a unit. To co-ordinate pick up times, to swap childcare duties on days off, to share household responsibilities, to have the dinner ready for the other person when they get in, booking annual holidays off to cover childcare between you for those who don’t work in education and don’t naturally get these same times off throughout the year as their kids. It is so easy to say “Just do it” when you have no concept yourself of what it takes to raise a kid by yourself. No idea of what it would take to juggle all of that life with a child under five by yourself. It is no walk in the park. 

Up until now, it has always been accepted that if you have a child under school age you were not pushed or required to work until they were in full-time school. This I feel is right.  That they are pushing now to change this to seemingly demonstrate their power, will to save money or to make a show of people already suffering, is wrong. It is not possible. By all means, when Emi is in full-time school next September, I will be working. She will still only be 4, but the hours at school will help me with finding a job that will fit better around that. I will not have to pay for all day childcare, her main school hours will at least be covered, therefore I will have less barriers holding me back from earning and working. That will be the right time to go back to work. It makes logical sense. But the benefits cap and the government in general is not what you would call logical.

What doesn’t make sense to me, is the belief by the masses of the propaganda allowed in the media to discriminate against all single parent claimers as a whole. For instance, a newspaper headline may shamelessly document a family who happens to claim £19000 “free” benefits per year, squaring them up against a hospital worker earning the same each year in a more “hard-working” manner. With the media, its black and white, its right and wrong.

What I want to know is, when you see a headline like this, do you instantly think “scumbag”. Or do you think of the reality about what that figure is covering and where exactly the money is going? Are you actually being brainwashed enough to believe that the parent is pocketing that amount of money each year for themselves to live on?

My rent, for example, works out at nearly £5300 per year. This is in a relatively cheap area. Imagine if that headline covered the cost of a London rental? This is paid directly to my landlord. I never see that money. Yet this figure is always included in the total figure of what “scum bag” claimers like me are getting. We don’t get it.We dont see it. My water rates are nearly £400 per year. My gas and electric nearly £600 per year. That is just for the two of us, being very careful to switch everything off we don’t use. Imagine the cost per year in a four or five person family unit? That is before food, clothing, phone bills, tv licence, kids costs for school etc, all the extras kids and babies need as they grow like nappies etc.

Do you really believe that people who genuinely claim as their only income are “laughing” at all you “hard” workers who have to earn your money whilst scum like me rolls around in excess? If you do think that, you have been misinformed. When you take into account travel and basic living expenditure on top of the other bills, it does not leave a lot. Anyone going on holidays at the tax payers expense and bragging about it must have other income they are not declaring. I for one am not into drugs myself. And that’s not trying to generalise myself. The type of people that flash this magical cash that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere are very often dealing or associated with drugs. Anyone like a struggling mother would probably be more likely to do a bit of cash in hand cleaning and not declare it just to feed her children, she certainly wouldn’t be flashing it, or proud of not declaring it. People need to eat. 

I know what it is to eek out your last £2.00 of the week  on the cheapest food you can find to get you through the next few days until there’s money in the bank again. I know what it is to have to feel ashamed as you cash in your saved up few pounds worth of coppers at the bank, just so you have emergency money on your card for things like milk over the weekend incase you run out. I know what it is to hold off from putting your heating on at all until at least December, preferring to sit with a jumper, blanket and hot water bottle rather than run up any more money and be landed with an energy bill you don’t have the available cash to pay, worrying your child is cold at night in a freezing flat, so much so that you sleep together to keep each other warm. I know what it is on the income I receive for my daughter, how it feels being 3 months behind with paying the water bill because it’s the last bill that gets chased and the kid needed to be fed first so you ignore it for a few months because you can, always stressing its hanging over you and hoping your services aren’t cut or you’re not hit by legal action for ignoring the red warning letters.

I hate that people paint this “scum on benefits” picture of EVERYONE on them. I also hate that people who work assume that people who claim are out to spite you or somehow getting one over on you. Claiming benefits isn’t about you. Until you have to do it, you wont understand that Mrs high and mighty “I work and you don’t”.

Say this does happen as they want and all single parents are pushed into working part-time regardless if it makes them better off or not, just to right things in their minds on some form in some office somewhere and so that the poor woman ensures her kids are not made homeless? Will there even be enough jobs for this anyway? I have looked at the Directgov website today and through the limited amounts of part-time jobs available, most of the ones I could find were night work or evening work. How does a single mom like myself with no close family or supportive partner do night work or evening work? Who watches Emi whilst I go? It works in theory in your little minds in your top paid jobs, sat behind your big desks in your nice suits your maid has ironed for you, whilst you make these rules up that are so unrealistic it would almost be laughable if it didn’t harm so many lives.

Single parents with babies will have to now search for work to meet the shortfall in benefits cuts if they cannot pay their rent. That will be their only option. Working for nothing, to pay the rent, to cover the babies child care, with nothing left over. Its disgusting. Before there is ANY free childcare at age 2? Are you kidding me?

I am not a fan of this government. However, I am even less of a fan of people who are not in the position to judge but do anyway. Stop it. You have no idea.

Parents, on their own, having to apply for help, should not be pushed into work until the child is in full-time school, unless their job income can cover their costs and they can realistically do it alone . My daughter wont even be 5 when she starts. They should be given choice or at least support and training during this time so that when they do return to work they are better qualified to get a better wage. There is currently no support in place, only unrealistic pushing which will make the mothers and childs lives twice as hard as they already are. The benefits system should be set up and in place to allow this much needed support to happen. Not to BULLY already hard done by mainly women into further hardship to save a few pounds. 

Train Travel with a Toddler. (8 Rules to Stress Free Travel)

Yesterday we made the long journey from Birmingham to Cornwall to visit family. We have done this journey a few times before, mainly when my little girl was a baby, a time when she didn’t move too much and was able to quietly sit, or sleep on my lap for hours on end whilst other passengers cooed over her cuteness and dribbly smiles.

My daughter is now heading towards 4 years old in the new year and can only be described as a live wire! She moves, she jumps, she sings whenever and wherever she wants to, as loud as she wants to! She has the energy of a flea and the attention span of a typical 3 year old, always looking for the next thrill and never wanting to sit still for too long!

So I have to admit I had not really been looking forward to this journey at all this time. 6-7 hours over three trains with a toddler confined to one space is not the ideal fr me or the other passengers! However, it actually went ok. I find to travel with children you have to learn lessons as you make mistakes. And I made lots of mistakes previously. Something I was determined not to repeat again. The last time we made this journey in June this year, it was a nightmare. It was the first time since she was tiny that I had travelled by train this far with her and I got it all wrong. I assumed that because I had booked my trains with connections, this meant that I would be guaranteed to get where I need on time. BIG MISTAKE.

RULE 1: NEVER ASSUME YOUR TRAIN WILL BE ON TIME!

PREVIOUS ERROR: My train was delayed but I actually managed to get the earlier one by ten minutes from my town to Birmingham. Even by taking this early positive step, the train then sat on the tracks outside of Birmingham New Street for 15 minutes waiting for a signaling error to be fixed or something, meaning I then had to rush to my main train. We had to rush, bags, toddler and all, down the escalators, where at the bottom she fell and came down arms and legs spread on her stomach at the bottom! I couldn’t comfort her as the doors were just shutting on the platform , we made it with about a second to spare, having to get on at the wrong carriage and drag a crying child and our cases through about 3 carriages to get to ours.

LESSON LEARNED: This time I was having none of that rubbish! You can’t rely on delays not occurring, so I got my first train an hour earlier, meaning by the time we got to Birmingham we even had time for a sausage sandwich and a hot chocolate. We had loads of time on the platform and without the rush were able to get in the carriage we needed at the right end. Such a relief this time!

RULE 2: BOOKING A TAXI MEANS NOTHING!

PREVIOUS ERROR: In june, I booked a taxi for 8am the following morning. It was confirmed. 8am came and went. No taxi. No contact. I called and was told a booking for first thing in the morning isn’t guaranteed. I am sure this is just my local rubbish company. I had to book with another firm at short notice which in itself nearly made me miss my first train.

LESSON LEARNED: This time, I said no taxis. Simple. Waiting on the trains is bad enough without stressing about even getting to the station!

RULE 3: TAKE SNACKS. LOTS OF SNACKS.

PREVIOUS ERROR: Thinking a good breakfast and a packed sandwich was enough to keep a toddler interested.

LESSON LEARNED: Kids like choice. This time I packed picnic bits like fruit, crisps, flapjacks, bread sticks, cheese…nibbly bits. It kept her snacking, filled her up and filled ten minutes for me on the journey every time she wanted a good rummage and little personal picnic, laying it all out and taking her pick.

RULE 4: TAKE LOTS TO DO.

PREVIOUS ERROR: I had hoped that looking out of the window at passing sheep and a few pens and paper might suffice. Wrong!

LESSON LEARNED: This time I was prepared. Magazine. Pens. Paper. Games on phone. Film to watch. She still spent half of the journey moaning and restless but I reckon it saved me about 2 hours of potential additional strops being prepared with activities.

RULE 5: BE REALISTIC

PREVIOUS ERROR: I used to be one of those people, pre-child, who would purposely book the quiet coach on the train so that I could avoid noisy children when I was travelling alone and wanted to bury my head into a good book. It is true that until you have kids you have no empathy for what the parent is going through in trying to travel long distances with children on the train when they don’t have an alternative option. After having her, I became very aware that I needed to try to keep her as quiet as possible incase the other passengers got annoyed.

LESSON LEARNED: In want of better words, screw em! Yes you can be considerate, which I am, but there is no way she is going to be quiet for a 6 hour journey. There is also no way she is going to stay in one spot for that long. If they need to walk up the aisle a little staying close to your seat, let them. If they need to stand up and look out fo the window at the sea as it passes by, let them. Do what you need to survive that ordeal!

RULE 6: DONT BOOK THE QUIET COACH

For the reasons I said above, people book this for a reason and you need to be honest with yourself that your kid is NOT going to comply to the quiet rule on a journey of any length.

RULE 7: DONT ASSUME BOOKING A SEAT BY A TOILET IS A WISE MOVE

I have always done this as kids need it all the time. However, you then have to put up with people by your seat constantly, or the effects of an unkept and dirty toilet, such as the smell, wafting past you every time the doors are opened. I wont be putting this one down as a priority choice next time! The toilet was in a right state on our journey down, so much so I carried her in and hovered her over the seat. The things we have to do 😊.

RULE 8: DONT LOSE FAITH IN GOOD PEOPLE

One of my biggest concerns about travelling alone is managing my child with all my bags, over big platform gaps and between stations! I am instantly nervous about these things before they happen. I have been touched by the amount of people (mostly business looking men on their way to work) offering to carry my cases between trains, reaching out and helping my little one onto the train or just offering their seat so we don’t have to stand. I didn’t struggle or have to ask for help once on this journey, it was simply given or offered, which I thanked or accepted gratefully. There are still some chivalrous people around it seems!

Those are my 8 rules to travelling with a little one. I hope it helps at least one person feel a bit better about a long journey ahead! My girl actually had a 30 minute nap at the end of the journey which was well timed to take stock of making sure I had everything in order to get off. Sometimes they do surprise you 😉.I will be prepared for the return journey in a few weeks! x