Here we go. I feel like I need to stand up in a circle and admit a sin or something the way this next topic is viewed. A bit like you do at an alcoholics anonymous meeting. “Hello, my name is Saisse and I am a single mother claiming benefits.” Shock horror, gasps all around, I know.
I can almost hear another person now, just by hearing those few words put together (Single mother, benefits) rolling their eyes and judging about the state of the country and how lazy none tax paying individuals like myself should be ashamed and “just get a job” like everyone else. I have seen so many friends saying stuff like this unaware of their own judgement on people they may know. In some ways, I feel I have to justify myself to everyone, daily. You are instantly looked down on like a lesser part of society when people hear your situation as a “claimer”. People, I have found, like to assume in their own minds that you have obtained this low-level of public standing by choice, rather than look at the bigger picture sometimes. I would like to open up a few unintentionally narrow-minded individuals eyes to the reality of one example of a benefit situation, mine.
Give me a chance and see what you think.
It is fair to say that the media, in particular, portray single moms as a nightmarish, lazy, out of control epidemic. There are cases, I will agree myself, especially in the past, where women have had a lot of children, for instance, to get out of having to work. There are other cases of people, who have never worked a day in their life and have no intention of doing so, having no living standards in their own lives or anything else. There are those that spend all their dole money on alcohol and cigarettes and don’t pay their rent on time. There are those that spend all their child allowances on drugs, whilst their children eat baked beans on toast every night. There are families that sit outside in their pyjamas all day to keep the electric bills down, eating junk and talking trash, obese beyond belief, claiming disability benefits due to their size and self-inflicted inability to work. These cases do exist. Trust me, I have seen it all, I do currently live in Birmingham, after all.
I, however, am not one of these cases. I am a hard-working, intelligent,honest mother of one who has fallen upon hard times. I get up each day with my daughter and live life to the best of my ability considering the circumstances we did our best not to be in. I wanted the same as all of you, a loving partner, a stable home life, the house, the car etc. I worked really hard to do all those things and keep them too. It takes two to tango, though, as they say. My girl is happy, cared for, eats well and is so bright it scares me at times. We are a family, just the two of us now but we exist still. We are not a number, a figure or a statistic. We are not a stereotype to throw in with the rest. We are real people living real lives. Not the ideal life. But still together and needing to stay alive. Not all single moms need carry the same stigma. We havent all appeared on Jeremy Kyle.
The last place I expected to be when I hit 30 this July was a single mom on benefits. I felt and still often feel a complete failure. It upset me greatly, this last birthday of mine. My milestone 30th birthday and my Nan passed away the week before it, my partner left me the year before and I had no idea what to do next. When the world then makes you feel ashamed for seeking help when it’s really needed, you feel exactly that, ashamed, like a lesser citizen for doing so. I would dread meetings with old friends or the thought of a school reunion, because, so many of the kids I went to school with had their careers planned before they even left the school gates. They knew what they wanted to do and did them, some of them being really successful, travelling the world, seemingly having amazing lives in the process. I never knew what I wanted to be. I still don’t really. All I can be right now is what I am.
Much like a lot of us, I left school and I just wanted to work a bit and earn a bit. So that is what I did. All I wanted to do was have a bit of money of my own to go and shop in the Select sale on a weekend, or maybe buy a new cd to sing to in my bedroom. Life was so simple at that age. Those were the days. From age 16 I got my first paid job in Poundstretchers. (I hated it!) I worked my way around different places (that’s the good thing about living in Cornwall as I did then, there was always word of mouth jobs available and on you go onto the next!). I have not had any run away success stories or a career as such, but I have always worked and been happy with money in my pocket, enjoying the journey along the way. It can be about the journey too, not just the status.
I have worked in a health food shop, taking on a full product knowledge package to advise people on the medication dangers when taking extra supplements. One time I was thanked by a bloke with a lovely card for spotting the relevance to his shellfish allergy when he had been about to buy a supplement that could have killed him, had he not been informed of the ingredients.
I have run a gorgeous shabby chic Interior shop for a lovely couple in Mousehole on their time off, walking from Penzance to Mousehole each day along the winding coastal path, listening to music in my own world and taking in the breath taking views along the way. After work I would stand in the sunshine and take in the little harbour atmosphere before doing the long stretch home again. It certainly beats getting the bus in a busy city like these days. I adore the couple that took me on and we have remained great friends, with them always having been a wonderful support and encouragement to me.
I have worked on St Michael’s Mount in Marazion, both doing paid work and volunteer gardening also. I loved getting the little boat over some mornings and being followed by the local seals along the way. The main boat man would always bring his dog onto the boat, his constant salty splashed companion forever at his side. I used to swap carrier bags from the National Trust shop I worked in, in exchange for some fresh mackerel caught a few minutes before by the island fisherman. I think the National Trust might frown upon my giving away of their plastic bags in exchange for fish but I wasnt going to turn that down ;-). I met one of my most positive and inspiring friends in this job, Lizzie, who I am glad to say is still in touch with me and as sunny as ever nearly 10 years later. We used to eat so much cake behind that counter when the customers weren’t looking. The good old days.
I have helped a lovely couple in Newlyn run their successful guest house, meeting loads of different nationalities and interesting characters along the way (Usually at the breakfast table!).I loved looking at the panoramic views out of their beautiful sitting room on breaks in my shift. I don’t think there’s a more time-consuming job than running a guest house, with room changes, washing, ironing and breakfast to me made every day. I had first hand experience of the effort involved and I take my hat off to Rob and Lynda and hope that I helped to contribute to at least half of the pace that they do each day. I am still in touch with them too, lovely friends and always there when it matters.
I have worked as a libraries Assistant at a book selling company. Boring work but I met my daughters dad there. Exciting memories in the years that followed and a whole new chapter which ultimately gave me this gorgeous girl in my life.
I worked as an evening waitress in a restaurant on a beach, owned by an ex famous sportsman. I had a blast as the only female on the night shift, with horny boys always willing to help me clear away in the hope of walking me home…didnt happen by the way ;-).
I did a few months work selling Aga Cookers in the upmarket Mailbox in Birmingham city centre.I was rubbish at this, as I much preferred watching the food demonstrations run by chefs on the cookers, rather than talking about the equipment. I did have a private cookery demonstration from Aktar Islam from the famous Lazan though, along with the other lucky on shift staff. That was pretty special taking those left overs home for tea. We also enjoyed lots of quiet mornings eating Sausage sandwiches over the latest gossip 😉 before the late shopping customers wandered in.
The point is, I have not had one solid career path, but who says everyone has to do that when they leave school? I have lived a fair bit in my short life and met so many people along the way.
I stopped working in 2012, when I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. I only stopped working at two months pregnant because we needed somewhere to live, back in the Midlands, as my then partner was adamant his son from his previous marriage should be involved with the new baby.I wanted this also having a relationship with him myself. I quit my jobs in Cornwall, we moved back, we both applied for work, me at three months pregnant. My then partner was employed within a month, I wasnt offered even an interview. Employers claim they can’t discriminate but lets face it, they all do. Its much easier to take on a willing 16 year old with loads of weekends spare than an up the duff 26 year old who will need maternity pay and leave for 9 months soon enough. It’s just reality.
We moved away from family, so it made sense for him to work and for me to stay at home until she got free hours at nursery (do you know how expensive day care is?!). He would then support me back into work.That was the plan.Then when my daughter hit nearly 2, he had an affair and left me quite out of the blue.
My planned out life just didn’t happen. He dumped his old life of 8 years for a new one. Meanwhile, me and my girl were left in the old one, suddenly on Income Support and wondering how the hell I would figure out what to do next. My support in getting back to work with him paying the bills was gone, as he was. It was suddenly all on my shoulders and even now I am terrified most days when I try to figure out how to make things better again. I have never faced a higher mountain or been more scared in my entire life.
My Nan became ill with Cancer (before he had left) so I swapped one care role for another. I was a technical wife, mother and heart of the family in my life with him. Then he went and I had no option but to go straight into Carer mode for my dying Nan, whilst being a full time mom to a 2 year old. We got a good year together, me and Nan, her sadly passing away only last month. So even then, I was still working, as a carer. Most people wouldn’t go out to work 35 hours per week and be happy with £62.10 in their pay packet at the end of it in a “real” job. I can’t think of a more real job than being a family members carer. It doesn’t get more real.
So that’s where I am up to right now. I have worked constantly for the last 14 years. I have new challenges ahead, as I will now be looking at ways to earn some money that will fit around my life with my daughter as a single parent, juggling work, home life and childcare. I will face these as they come.
I just wanted to share a realistic spin on the benefits system. It’s so easy for people with standard jobs who have had the privilege to do everything the right way. School, uni, drive, work, house, babies….Life doesnt work that way for everyone. I wanted all of that. I worked for all of that. It didn’t happen for me so I have had no choice but to fall back on the benefits system whilst I need it.
Do I like claiming benefits? No I don’t. I hate it.
Do I plan to stay on them? Not a chance.
Do I plan to get a job now, as I have constantly been asked in the 4 weeks since Nan died? Yes I plan to work, work that will fit around my daughter, who is still only three and has only me in her daily life for childcare options.
But crucially, do I need benefits right now? Yes, I do and that is the point.
If the system is used correctly, to those that really need it, it’s there and its brilliant because it means that me and my daughter, through a situation of no fault of our own making, have a home, we can eat, we have a lot to be grateful for. We do not see it as a lifestyle choice, a long-term plan, or a get out of work clause. I will not teach her that benefits are the way forward. She already has a strong work ethic thanks to watching me not stop and that wont stop for her as she grows.
It is a safety net, in which, if people have no choice but to use it, they should not then be judged, slagged off or type cast as we are so horrible at doing in this country. Next time you find yourself stereo typing (and we all do it!) look a bit deeper, it’s not always what it seems x Thanks for reading x