‘Too Many Hurdles’

This blog is a guest post from a friend of ATD Fourth World.

Hi. My name is Hazel, and I am a single mum from Fife. My sons are 18 and 16 now and I have been on my own with them for around 14 years.

In that 14 years, I have been in several different situations, from working full time on a good wage with no benefits to relying solely on benefits and only benefits to live. In this time, I have gone from being able to walk around Asda putting anything in my basket without thinking to sticking to a strict shopping list in Aldi as I have very little money to provide us with food for the week. I have been in the position where I have had to go without food to provide money for fuel to heat my kids home for the week and I have also had to turn to foodbanks for help as I’ve had no money left. The stress, anxiety and guilt this caused was life-changing for me. I was once strong, independent and confident; but it took all my strength to battle through week to week and left me with no confidence or self-esteem. I felt a failure as a mother and as a person.

My main source of income when I was in work was from jobs in the care sector, mostly zero-hour contracts and minimum wage. The trouble with this is no reliability, no idea the number of hours you will work from week to week and in turn no idea what wage you will get at the end of the month. The stress of this and the building debt caused acute stress and anxiety to the point that I had to quit.

I became involved with Joseph Rowntree Foundation as I am extremely passionate about raising awareness of poverty in the UK and the real suffering that goes on behind closed doors for far too many families.

The project with JRF, called Involve, is allowing people who have experience of in-work poverty especially to be included in the shaping of the project right from the start. From discussing the issues faced by poverty, we were able to think of the themes of the project and give our thoughts and ideas on how the project should look. Those experiencing poverty had a say in the project, what would work and what wouldn’t from their perspective. This was different from previous JRF projects and was an exciting, innovative way of working which we hope will bring fresh new results from the research and new ideas for recommendations for changes to eradicate poverty in the UK.

All the families I have spoken to over the years want to work and they want to be earning their own money — but there are too many hurdles in their way. Lack of jobs for example, lack of accessible, affordable childcare, lack of transport. For some it’s a lack of confidence and no idea where to start.

I do not feel there is one quick fix for this. I feel a lot of different things need to come together to allow families to get out of the poverty trap and live a good decent quality of life. This would include availability of jobs with a flexible attitude to hours and shifts to allow for parents of young children. A reasonable rate of pay, a living wage with a top of from the government if need be. The rate of benefits would need to increase yearly to match the rate of inflation and the minimum families are required to live on — needs to be realistic and allow for emergencies and savings. Adequate childcare needs to be available, incentives should be made available to anyone willing to offer childcare facilities out with the norm 9-5 Monday–Friday timetable. Mon-Fri 9-5 is not realistic for families.

Rent, council tax, transport and childcare need to be capped at a reasonable price to prevent agencies and companies from charging ridiculous rates to families and taking advantage of the vulnerable.

I feel that if everyone works in sync with everyone it will all work for the better, more families working and being able to spend money on their families for clothes, food, leisure activities etc. This would have such a positive impact on all areas of family life, society and the economy as a whole.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

 — Hazel