The truth happens to be in the UK right now that it is extremely easy to end up on the streets, or going hungry, or just going further and further into debt. Luckily we were blessed by wages, or help, just in time. It has meant that if we didn’t have our Graduate overdrafts we’d be in deep trouble, and our multiple attempts to get out of our overdrafts have been in vain despite the lowest rents we can find, the lowest monthly food budget we can set, and attempting to limit fuel consumption.
An inspiring woman, called Jack, who seems to have attracted a bit more attention due to her blog has been talking to a number of newspapers and presenters about the difficulties of trying to survive with her young son. She has pointed out that the stereotypes of those on benefits are often widely inaccurate, she is a voice for the half a million people (and rising) dependant on food banks, and a wonderful source for truly budget-friendly meals.
Things have got better for her recently, she was given a job at her local newspaper, and offered a book deal, but these positive pieces of her life meant that her benefits were written off, which put her immediately into more difficulty than she would’ve been otherwise.
The first time that Bear and I really struggled was just before he graduated, and just after I came to end of my job contract. I had been looking for a job for a few months knowing it was coming to an end, but it was hardly a good time for graduates in the job market. At the same time Bear was desperately looking, we’d signed onto Job Seekers because we thought they might be able to give us some actual help (they didn’t really have any advice other than keep looking..), and we’d been saving as much as we could out of student loans and my meagre salary in the hopes we might make it just a couple of months. We were on pasta, porridge, the odd tin of tuna.. whatever we could get cheap and make last. We moved hoping to live a little cheaper and be more likely to find jobs outside of Scotland, but we were going month by month for a good while longer than I was comfortable with. Luckily we had wonderful support from friends and our families, because it could have been much worse.
Food prices are going up, welfare is being cut, and unemployment means that it’s not easy for anyone to get a living wage right now. I wanted to attempt to stand up against the stereotypes. I went to Job Seekers, I never want to have to again, I work hard at what I do, and before I decided to take that step I worked hard at any job I thought I could do. I was not a student who thought cleaning, admin, whatever, was beneath me because I knew I had bills to pay. If I need to sell the TV to pay the bills I will. I grew up probably something like “working class” with a decent education and food on the table, and I worked hard for a good degree. I got a job the same day I graduated.
Honestly it only takes a small slip in your wages, not being able to find low-cost accommodation, your heating bills being higher one month than you expected (despite wearing two jumpers so as not to turn up the heating) perhaps in a particularly bad winter, your car breaking down, you doing a budget calculation wrong, for you to end up going hungry a couple of days in a row.
I still worry about what we don’t have in savings, how we can save and get out of the overdraft, how much heating will cost this winter, and how warm I’m going to be able to keep my newborn baby next January. I can do my best, but the truth is that for most of this country one month’s salary could make the difference between getting by comfortably, and queueing with everyone else at a Food Bank. Either way it’s scary, particularly with a child on the way.
I don’t have answers, but the education available to stop judging people is out there. Go read Jack‘s story, go take the £1 a day challenge, think about how much you spend on heat, electricity, phone, internet, rent, etc and then ask if you could pay for any of that and still feed yourself on what an equivalent person might be surviving off from benefits.
Try and show compassion, and if you find yourself buying a major luxury, think about donating something to a local Food Bank, someone just down your street might be struggling.
If you don’t know how to donate to a Food Bank searching online, asking your local church/mosque, asking a local supermarket whether they support one. There is really no excuse and it does help families survive.