It’s the day of the budget and I know that I will be one of the ones that the Government is going to target. Yes, I am on their radar as being a drain on society. In fact, I tick many of their targeted boxes:
- I’m a single mum
- I have more than two children – five dependents to feed and clothe
- I have recently deliberately reduced my employed working hours
- I will only be working 16 hours a week which is mostly through self-employment
- I will be under the tax threshold in September
- I claim child tax credit
- I claim working tax credit
- I claim housing benefit
- I claim disability living allowance for my daughter
So there we have it. Looking at these facts, I am a blight on society. I shouldn’t have had so many children if I’m not prepared to support them without the need of benefits. I shouldn’t deliberately reduce my hours, leading to a greater reliance on benefits. I should be working full-time and contributing to society. I am nothing but a scrounger.
That’s how the Government and, I suspect, a substantial proportion of the public when simply looking at the facts. But, as in every case, there is a person and a story behind every statistic. So let me tell you mine.
I was up until 1:15am this morning. Working. Marking GCSE exam papers as I have been for the last month. Working an extra 30 hours a week (in addition to my three day a week teaching job and two businesses) often means working until the early hours and then getting up at 5:30am to start again before the children get up. This is why I haven’t written my blog for so long.
I do work. In fact, I have worked since I was 18. I worked three jobs to pay for my degree. I did not apply for a grant or loan to pay for my education – I paid for it by working 40 hours a week with three small children while studying. My degree and subsequent teacher training enabled me to work as a teacher for the last 10 years, educating thousands of students and paying plenty of tax. Does this make me a scrounger?
I had six children over 18 years. Maybe I should have stuck to two but I was married and we could afford them. In fact, we had calculated that I would be able to resign from teaching and stay at home after our last baby working self-employed. We claimed none or very little tax credits over those years as we both worked full-time and earned over the threshold, apart from when I was on maternity leave. I did not have six children to claim more money in benefits.
I did not choose to be a single mum. If you read Two Years Ago, you will see that I had no choice in the matter. But when I became a single mum, I didn’t choose the unemployment route and sign on. Alex was only 10 days old when I started exam marking and six weeks old when I returned to self-employment. As I owned my own home, I wasn’t entitled to help with the mortgage and although I did claim tax credits, I had to return to work very quickly to pay the mortgage and bills. Does this make me a lazy single parent as the Government would portray me?
In order to be able to move to Telford and pay for both the mortgage on the house and my new rent plus the bills that I had to pay on both houses, I worked 7 jobs for three months. My ex-husband was unemployed so if I wanted to be able to move without getting the house repossessed, I needed to have enough funds in my account to cover all costs. Working 7 jobs was more exhausting than I can express, but I did it to give my children a better life.
Recently, I have reduced my working hours. In fact, I resigned from my job. And yes, I agree that this will make me rely on benefits more than in the past. In that sense, I can see that some may see me as just taking from society. However, I will still be working from September. It will simply be self-employment rather than employment, running three small businesses from home. I agree, that I will be earning less than when I was employed and so may be seen as being irresponsible.
However, starting a business will always mean taking a pay cut. Businesses do generally make a loss to start with. Does this mean that nobody should move from employment to self-employment? Over time, I hope to be earning more than I am currently and paying more tax and receiving less tax credits, but this will take time and hard work. I don’t mind working hard but in that period while I build up the business I will be more reliant on benefits. For that, I can only apologise, although I will be working just as hard as I was while in employment. The difference is that I will be earning less and be there for my children more.
So why did I resign? Carrying on working the hours I have been doing was leaving me exhausted, affecting my mental health and so impacting on my children. Part of this was due to the changing climate in teaching that the Conservative Government has caused. In addition, one of my daughter has medical needs that means I need to collect her from school when she has an attack, which is difficult to do when in employment – not many bosses will let you leave at a minute’s notice to dash to the school or hospital. So after 10 years of working, paying tax and not claiming benefits, I have found myself in a situation when I need a little back of what I have paid in.
I’m sorry, Conservative Government, that you see me as a scrounger, feel that I should have only had two children and shouldn’t be claiming benefits. I am doing my very best. I work every minute I can while supporting my children and taking care of them. I know it isn’t enough though and you are going to punish me and my children today by reducing our tax credits and housing benefit. This won’t make me work any harder – I am working as hard as I can – but it will mean more cuts to my budget at home. Which will mean less spending on food and clothes (as I can’t reduce my rent or other bills) and therefore, less money going back into the economy.
I wait nervously to see how I – a statistical blight on society – will be affected, as will thousands of other working parents who claim tax credits. We don’t claim because we want to be benefit scroungers, we claim to top up our income from paid work so that our children are not in poverty. We do our best to juggle working and parenting but it clearly isn’t enough.
While I wait for the budget announcements and my children are happily playing, I had better get back to the exam marking, while feeling undervalued and belittled by our current government.