Friday, 11 January 2013

Memories of single motherhood

There's been a lot in the press this week about the benefits cuts, and the fact that many families have lost their child benefit this week. I think the way these cuts have been worked out is incredibly unfair. The fact is that a single mum, working to raise a family on her own, would lose her child benefit if she earned just above the threshold for the cuts, say £51K. Her married neighbours, who might earn £49K apiece, would keep their benefits, despite having almost double the household income of the single mum.

There is something very wrong in this. The politicians making these cuts have absolutely no experience of poverty, so have little appreciation of the impact that losing this money will have on the families affected. I actually think that all politicians should have to live the life of a low income family for a week or so before taking office, so they can truly appreciate what it is like.

I am fortunate enough never to have known the grinding poverty that some families in Britain live day to day. However, as a single mum to my eldest daughter, I was pretty skint for the first two or three years, and still remember how tough this could be.

At the time, I was working in a fairly low paid sales job. It was boring and demeaning and required little skill or intelligence, but it was all that I could find at the time, given the fact that I was raising my daughter alone with the limitations that imposed. She attended a lovely nursery that was paid for by my parents, whose support was lifesaving for me - this was before the introduction of tax credits, so without their help, I simply wouldn't have been able to work at all.

I remember the little, daily, details of being poor, that other people wouldn't have given a second thought to. My heart sinking when we received a party invitation for another child at nursery's birthday - especially, as was often the case, one that was taking place a taxi ride away; the quick mental calculations as to whether I could afford £20 for a taxi and another £10 for a gift. Or an invitation to the park to meet another mum and her child, and the dread that she might suggest going for lunch and a coffee; hoping that she wouldn't see through my paper thin excuses as to why we couldn't. Writing a shopping list and a meal plan for the week and not being able to deviate from that by a single penny, adding everything up as I put things in my trolley, then the cold fear at the supermarket till in case I hadn't worked it out correctly and gone over my budget.

Despite this, it's a time I look back on with huge fondness, as it taught me that money absolutely isn't everything, and happy memories, of which I have many, cost nothing.  I also know the price of everything, from a piece of fruit to a box of eggs! I went on to get a better paid job, and met my husband. We certainly aren't wealthy, and can't afford a lot of luxuries, but I don't have to worry the way I did when I was a single mum on a low income.

I read a thread on Mumsnet recently about how tough many families are finding it at the moment. It was heartbreaking. Mums who have to potty train their toddlers early, as it's cheaper to wash soiled underwear than buy nappies. People who have to call in sick to work, as they can't afford the bus fare to get there at the end of the month. Families who literally could not afford to buy their children Christmas gifts. No one should have to live this way. And it's so, so wrong that a government of millionaires, as the Independent so aptly said, have just made these some of these people's lives a little bit harder still.


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