If I can speak out against injustice, I will shout as loud as I can. I dislike inequality, discrimination and unfairness. I have a disability but it doesn’t stop me contributing to the Fair by Design campaign as I have suffered at the hands of the poverty premium. I have also learned more about people’s struggles through the stories I’ve heard by sitting on the Birmingham Poverty Truth Commission.
My husband is my full-time carer but also disabled himself, so we have another carer who comes in around 11am to help me get my day sorted. My husband manages the day-to-day tasks at home before our son comes home from school. We are on a low income and it’s an absolute nightmare to budget. We have lots of bills to pay, and there’s always something that gets left out. We have to prioritise: we need a roof over our head, and gas and electricity, but even food costs can be a problem. Sometimes, my mother-in-law gives us food parcels, and my Nan, before she passed away, used to give us a bit of money to help us through the month.
My journey really goes through three stages. When I was a single parent, I used some social fund grants to furnish our home as far as I could. I also had to use Provident loans and buy-to-rent furniture as buying outright was way too expensive, but the fees and interest were really high, and I couldn’t keep up with the repayments.
Things got better when I met my husband, but when he was diagnosed with a disability and couldn’t work, we ended up being declared bankrupt and lost everything. It takes such a long time to come away from bankruptcy: your bank account is closed, and it’s difficult to open another one. The Co-Op is currently the only high street bank that will take you on. We had to use a Post Office account which only allowed the use of standing orders rather than Direct Debits, which really limited our options.
We had to rely on the charity of family, which was devastating and demoralising. I worked three jobs: at a nursery in the morning, as a dinner lady in the afternoons, and bar work in the evening, until my own disability meant I had to stop. We also lost money when my older children hit the age of 16 – although my daughter went to college, my son started an apprenticeship, so we lost his Child Benefit as he was technically counted as being in work.
Now, we live hand-to-mouth. It’s just a daily struggle. Catalogues are a lifeline – I use them for Christmas and for clothing. Paying in instalments feels more affordable, even if you have to pay more. I bite the bullet and use them because there’s no other way. If my washing machine broke down, or my cooker stopped working, I’d have to buy through catalogues – I can’t get credit in-store.
Pre-payment meters are installed in all council properties, so you have no option to change supplier. I’ve never known anything but pre-payment meters. You also need credit checks to set-up Direct Debits – almost everything is credit-checked – and so if you fail, you’re left with the basics. I’ve known people who have had to get broadband installed in their relatives’ names because they wouldn’t pass the check. The internet is essential to everyday life now – it’s like energy. My son’s homework is all online, and I have to use shop online as it can be difficult for me to get out. I have outstanding debt on credit cards. At the moment, this is on hold because of my disability, but it’ll need to be paid in the future, and it makes me feel sick to think about it.