After reading about Heather Frost today, I felt the need to write this post.
I started work at the age of 17. I had a summer job which lead on to another job which lead on to another and so on. I did well with my career in Relocation. I paid my NI and I paid my taxes. In my mid-20s I had two jobs. My week day office work and then, the weekends were spent in a record store aiding my passion of music. I contributed even more by paying emergency tax on my second job and, despite the fact that I worked all the hours god sent, I didn’t have tonnes of money to show for it. But I did have my self-worth.
Roll on a few more years and I qualified as a driving instructor. I was self-employed and worked 7 days a week starting at 7.30/8am and finishing around 7.30pm. I carried on contributing to the system,paying my taxes and NI and continued with this job for 4 years.
Reaching my mid-30s everything changed. I had Grace. I became a single Mum. The Legal Aid system let me down. I had no money. I received no child support. Thank goodness for my Mum who gave Grace and I a home. Despite my embarrassment, the government encouraged me to claim income support and I had numerous interviews with the job centre explaining my position, promising that I would get back to work after I had started to cope with the fall-out of the domestic abuse I had been through. They were understanding and kind.
Then came the time where I needed to leave my Mums. I hadn’t fully realised until that point the stigma that was put on people receiving benefits. Getting a place to live wasn’t easy when I said I would be on housing benefit. I was lucky to find an understanding Letting Agent, sympathetic Landlord and lovely flat in a great village. But, later, getting a job in an Estate Agents meant I had to continuously hear Landlords slating ‘benefits scum’ who ‘would probably wreck the place they were renting and stick up a giant plasma TV with the money the scum received from the taxes their wages paid for’.
I felt I had to continually justify my position and explain why I received benefits. Even typing that now makes me feel like dirt. But why should it?! I paid into a system for nearly 20 years for the possibility that, one day, I may need help back. That the system I had been working to help support and pay into may, one day, help me in return. After all, isn’t that what it’s there for?
Then I see people like Heather Frost. Is it any wonder many have this view of people on benefits. Why should she get everything and expect to give nothing. Why should she – despite the fact that she has 11 children – feel that this country ‘owes’ her. And what sort of example is she setting to her children? Already the two eldest are on benefits as well. Then, to add insult to injury, she admits that gets things off of local shoplifters. This woman is appalling. She says that there is no law on how many children she has. Heather, no there isn’t, but there is a law on how you fund your child’s upbringing and ‘stealing’ other peoples hard earned wages isn’t it, nor is liaising with local criminals.
I come from a large family of 7 children and, whatever I may feel about my father, he worked damned hard to make sure that we had a decent place to live, food to eat, holidays and presents for birthdays and Christmas. Then, when he and my Mum split up, she needed to use the system but she never took advantage and was always careful trying hard to save money and live an honest life. As a result, all 7 of us are hard-working, honest, decent people.
When I converted from being on full income support to going back to work, I couldn’t wait to get rid of the stigma. I did it gradually and, as I increased my hours so the benefits decreased but they still made sure that, as a single working parent, they catered for me so that I didn’t get into financial difficulty. I still got some housing benefit, reduced council tax and my income support turned into working and child tax credit. My dignity and self-worth returned but, most importantly of all, I was setting my daughter the example that to get what you want in this life, you need to earn it.