We are a working family receiving a Universal Credit top-up. My partner is a chef in a care home. He is a classically trained chef who in his younger years worked in the West-End at high-class restaurants and private member’s clubs, catering to the likes of the Prime Minister at the time, John Major. He is highly skilled and earns a little over the minimum wage.
Over the course of the pandemic, he has worked like a horse, at times he was working days on end without a break because the other chef (over 70), was unable to work. He has worked 3 months without a kitchen assistant, doing two people’s work on the wages of one and it is an absolute insult, when I hear people say ‘if you are going to miss the £20, just work harder.’
Please tell me how my partner could work any harder than he is already? Because what I wake up to every morning is a man that is exhausted, a man that is missing spending time with his family, a man that is demoralised because we can’t afford to buy our own home or just go out for a meal and feel like our hard work has paid off somehow. If we do have an unusual treat or day out it will cost us dearly and we will have to make up for it by reducing necessities.
I laugh about how lockdown has ended but nothing has changed for us. We go to work/school and we come home and we stay home. It isn’t by choice. I used to live a rich life, with trips to the theatre, meals out and holidays abroad but I can’t even imagine living a life like that again with the way things are.
Our kids want to join after-school groups like gymnastics or drama and we can’t provide that for them because we just can’t afford it and I wonder, how much talent and genius this country must lose because of the financial strain people face in life.
My nine-year-old asked me this morning, “Are we poor?”
I replied, “We are just managing.” It is a lie, we are not just managing, we are hundreds of pounds in our overdrafts, we are trying to sell belongings that if we had money, we would just donate in order to help others and we are trying to go without food shopping for as long as possible in order to try and save as much money as we can to stop living in our overdrafts. Our lives are far from extravagant, we are desperately trying to live within our means but living within our means, means deciding what essential item is more essential than the other. We aren’t choosing between heating and eating and that is why I struggle to admit we are poor, because if we are poor what does that make the people that are worse off than us?
When the government gave the £20 uplift it was basically an admission that Universal credit was not enough money to live on. Welfare payments had been frozen for five years, prior to the pandemic, whilst inflation and the cost of living continued to soar so it was a much-needed increase to the benefit but still not enough to make up for a decade of harmful austerity policies.
The £20 uplift was never given to people on legacy benefits, which showed an absolute disregard from the government towards disabled people and their quality of life during one of the toughest times this country has faced in a generation.
To take it away, knowing what problems it will cause is just callous and a slap in the face to all the low-paid key-workers we were all clapping for on our doorsteps less than a year ago.
Johnson is right about one thing, we need to level up the country but I don’t see how we level up by making constant cuts and taking away from society. We can only level up by investing in our people and our services.
We have the sixth richest economy in the world, we have people living in this country with gold plated toilets, there should be a financial level in this country that no one should be able to fall below, that is why this country created the welfare state. We shouldn’t need food banks, clothes banks or baby banks, when did we find it acceptable to be some kind of charity state, where we make masses of our population have to beg for things they can’t live without?