Excuse me while I clear my throat because it’s so long since I used my voice around here. Partly because I have been busy with and knackered by work and partly because – ahem (there I go again with the throat-clearing) I passed thirty many years ago so feel a bit weird / fraudulent writing a blog called My Shitty Twenties. I also feel like I had said all I had to say about single parenthood.
Turns out I haven’t.
When it comes to dodging Tory bullets, we’ve been lucky so far. Our house only has two bedrooms, so we weren’t hit by the bedroom tax and, given the fact Tom’s father doesn’t give me any money whatsoever towards his upkeep, the Child Maintenance changes didn’t affect us either. I’ve carried on, earning a pittance for a job I love, thankful for the fact my bank allows me to go way beyond my overdraft limit every month (and charges me for the privilege).
“That’s awful,” people say, “make it stop!”
But if I made it stop, my bills would bounce and then we’d be in even bigger trouble. Like an unflattering but generous elasticated waistband, the stretchy boundaries of my bank account are both my enemy and my saviour.
I’d read about the Tax Credits cuts and, I confess, screwed up my eyes and stuck my fingers in my ears and gone “lalala”. I knew that some families could lose “up to” this or “as much as” that and hoped that, as a hard-working single parent, they wouldn’t affect me too much. Tax credits are the things that make surviving on a low wage possible; surely the Tories, in their attempt to come across as the party for ‘hardworking’ people (that’s not even a word, Cameron), wouldn’t be reducing them by too much. Then I saw that brave lady calling out Amber Rudd on Question Time and decided I had better find out exactly how much worse off we’re going to be come April.
It’s over £1600 a year.
It can’t be right, I thought, struggling to sleep last night. Those online calculators are never very accurate. Call the Tax Credits office in the morning.
So I did. The first person couldn’t tell me and the second person confirmed that I was indeed going to lose nearly £1700 a year from April.
I and many, many others literally will not be able to manage if this happens.
Osborne and pals reckon the changes will force employers to pay more, but there’s a problem with that for me: I work in the public sector so my wages are determined by the government. Presumably they’re not about to give their low-paid workers a massive pay rise?
I am in work for 8:15 every morning, having paid the childminder to take my son to school because he starts after me. She also collects him in the afternoon, when I am still at work. I am a teaching assistant and I absolutely adore my job and the children I work with. I wanted to train to be a teacher, but because I had a baby in the middle of my degree ten years ago and came out with a 2:2 and the government has changed the funding rules to attract candidates who look better on paper, I would be eligible to “£0” funding to train. And that’s if I would even be accepted on a course, which is unlikely, even though I’ve got a Masters. Yep, I’ve checked, many times.
News about the Tax Credits cuts slipped through the nasty net of the right-wing press when they were too busy headlining the disaster that was Corbyn refusing to sing a song about The Queen. Now their readers, the ‘hardworking people’ [sic] courted by Cameron in the run-up to the election, are realising that from next spring, they’re going to be in real trouble. I didn’t think I’d ever agree with anything The Sun did, but their campaign to stop these cruel cuts can only be a good thing.
Two weeks ago, Tom and I marched. You spend all of summer waiting for cloudless skies, every year forgetting that summer tends to come in autumn these days. We would have marched in the rain or a gale or in sleet, but as it happened, Manchester was tropical, and the anti-austerity march felt like carnival.
Was I indoctrinating my nine-year-old son by taking him on a political march? I had this out with myself before we went to the first rally after the election in May but decided, eventually, that everyone presents their children with the beliefs that they think are right, which is why I spent every Sunday morning of my childhood in church. Tom’s nine years have soared past in a colourful blur; in the same amount of time again, he’ll be an adult and massively affected by what the Tories are doing now. So we marched, with Tom blowing a horn and waving a banner, everyone in the crowd being carried along by the kinetic energy and feeling a solidarity that almost extinguished the fury. Town was full of people who felt the same. And the odd sheepish-looking person in a blue lanyard. If I’d had the grisly figure I jut found out in my head, I’d have shouted so much louder.
“I’ll be able to vote in two elections,” Tom said, on the way home, “I don’t know if I’ll vote Labour or Green.”
“You might vote for the Conservatives,” I said, squeezing his hand tight as we strode across the pelican crossing.
“I will NEVER do that.”
“You might, you know. You won’t always agree with everything I say. I just tell you what I think is best, you will make your own mind up when you’re an adult.”
“But how could I vote for a party that makes poor people poorer and rich people richer? I just never can.”
I squeezed his hand tightly again, even though we were safely across the road and on the pavement on the other side.
If you’re affected by this, or even if you’re not and you think it is abysmal, please sign this, make a noise, don’t take it, because it really, really can’t happen.