Friday, 17 October 2008


I’m still on the subject of poverty here. I know it was only meant to be for one day and I’m sorry if you’re getting bored now but it’s an important subject and if just one person stops and thinks a little more because of what I’ve written, it’ll have been worth boring all the others.

On the Blog Action Day website there’s a list of 88 ways to take action against poverty. I wouldn’t agree that all of the suggestions are ‘action AGAINST poverty’ as such, but they’re undoubtedly actions that would at least make the individual better understand just what poverty is and what it might feel like. One suggestion is: on one day only, eat food that you have asked someone for directly or for the money you need to buy it. Pay attention to the feelings.

I know the feelings.

About eight years ago I left my ex partner for a while (I stayed with a friend) before returning to the house after his departure from it. When I returned I was penniless. Because I had sole responsibility for Paul, my special needs son, I’d had to give up my job when I’d initially left and wasn’t able to go back to work. I applied for benefits.

Now you’d think that would be pretty straight forward wouldn’t you, but no… not in this country! I waited and waited but nothing happened. I had to borrow friends’ telephones to call the benefits agency (no money for a telephone of my own or to use in a phone box) but all I was ever told was that my application was being processed. A month passed, two months passed and still I had nothing but child benefit to survive on. I think that was about £25 per week for my 2 children back then - I was receiving nothing for my son as he was an adult and as I hadn’t NEEDED to previously apply for money from the social fund for him before, I hadn’t bothered. I didn’t believe in taking out of the communal pot just ‘because you can’.

It stands to reason that the small income I had didn’t cover our costs. Our meals were inadequate (I’ve no idea how many times I went without food in order to let the kids eat), the children needed shoes that I couldn’t afford and the rent wasn’t being paid. Most nights we sat without electricity and heating was a luxury we could only dream of at the time. We tried to make it fun by telling stories around candles (I remember getting a huge pack of nasty green ones for £1) and pretending we were camping under our duvets but life was, to say the least, pretty miserable.

Clearly, I couldn’t manage on such a small income and there were times when I had to go to friends with my hat in my hands and ask for money or/and food. God, was that embarrassing. Unless you’ve been in that position, you’ve no idea how humiliating it feels. I’d put it off for as long as I could but sometimes I had no choice, it was either that or let my kids go without a meal again (yes, there were days when none of us ate anything other than cheap bread). There was a point where I seriously considered taking the bus to Manchester to sit on the street and beg. Thankfully, I never had to actually do that but I can understand why some people do. Sometimes you just do what you have to do.

Luckily my housing officer (I was living in a housing association - the same one as now but a different house in a different area) was really good and understood my position. The eviction threats kept coming from head office but she told me to ignore them, that she’d deal with it. You still worry about it though.

It took six months before my giro eventually arrived. Sure, I got a hefty back-pay but what did that help while we were struggling? It didn’t make us any less hungry during those six months, it didn’t put new shoes on my children’s feet or winter jackets on their backs and it didn’t keep us warm on cold winter nights.

I hope I never experience such a situation again and that none of you ever will. Poverty is soul destroying and in a world of plenty, it needn’t exist.

Sharon J


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Jade of the Jungle said...

Again, thanks for sharing Sharon.

You needn't apologise for posting about this - these issues are so important and go to the heart of what it means to live in a workable society.

Your last post really touched a raw nerve, and though only a small token gesture, I bought a coffee for the homeless man who sits outside our office every day. It was cold, and he looked so miserable. I have to confess I did feel like a patronising tw*t though, even though I didn't mean to come across that way!

Anyways, carry on with the good work of bringing about awareness.

J x

Carol said...

I am sure that your friends didn't have any qualms about you going to them because I know that when your friends are in need............

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I'm sitting in tears here. NO one should EVER go through that, no one.
What I find horrific is when people simply walk passed people who beg and the homeless as though they don't exist. My aunt taught me a trick, she saves £1 coins and uses them when she sees someone in need.

Your posts are such a good reminder about humanity and compassion.

Thank you!

LiveWellSimply said...

Amazing story! I've never experienced poverty to this level, though I guess if you'd lived through such difficult experiences, "normal" life would seem all the more wonderful.

Lizzie said...

You mean its not true that everyone on benefits gets £2000 a a week and a five bedroom house, but I am sure thats what I read in the Daily Mail???

Sharon Rose said...

Hi there-thats totally amazing how you survived with kids as well through such a tough time. All credit to you for coming through to the other side, I'm sure you are all the more stronger for it too.

Sharon J said...

@ Jade. I can understand that 'help' can come across as patronising and some people get really angry when you offer a hand so kudos to you for doing it :)

@ Carol. Absolutely.

@ Frugal Trenches. Blimey, I didn't mean to make you cry, hun. It is very easy to close our eyes to the problems that are right on our doorsteps - it's as though we believe that if we ignore it, it won't really be there.

@ Livewellsimply. Well, it does teach you a thing or two about appreciation, that's for sure.

@ Lizzie. Of course they do. I made all that up just to get some sympathy ;) Seriously, stories like that are what give those of us who HAVE to live off benefits a bad name.

@ Sharon Rose. Y'know, I think it would have been far more difficult without the kids because they gave me a reason to get up in the morning and keep going. Being totally alone in that situation must be absolutely dreadful.