I grew up learning explicitly that we don't discuss religion, politics, or money in polite company (I learned from society that we don't discuss mental health either).
Why don't we discuss these things?
I love learning about people's religious beliefs, it lets me learn about them, how they see the world, and teaches me different viewpoints.
I love knowing people's political leanings. Again, I can learn new things, gain different viewpoints, and in the case of the current political situation within the UK, I can learn who not to bother p*ssing on if they are on fire.
Which brings a neat little segue into what I actually want to write about - talking about money.
Why don't we talk about money and finances?
- It is impolite to brag
- Debt is something to be ashamed of
- Not earning "enough" is something to be ashamed of
- The government would rather that we didn't look too closely at it
I accept that I sound mildly conspiracy theorist now, but hear me out. When we are conditioned not to discuss a subject, we also do not discuss what our government is doing wrong in regards to said subject.
If you are lucky enough (yes, it is luck - your health and finances can disappear in the blink of an eye) to have never had money problems, please don't look away, I want to explain it to you.
First of all there is just the basic logistics. You have X amount of money coming in, and Y going out. When X is less than Y, you have to work out how to do the maths to fix it. Will you skip certain bills? What is "non-essential" that you can cut out? Will you borrow money? Can you increase your income?
Making that decision involves various mental gymnastics which is both emotionally and physically draining. You're tired.
Let's look at those options.
Ok, so you don't pay the electric this month. How are you going to pay it next month, when it is double?
Cut out "non-essentials"
What is non-essential? Mobile phone? TV? Children's activities? Once every "non-essential" is removed, what is your life, or your children's lives, like? Work, sleep, minimal food. Is that a life, or just living?
Who are you borrowing from? A loan? How are you paying it back? What about the interest? Can you get a loan if you have bad credit from skipping previous bills?
How about a friend? Do you have a friend who could help you? How will you pay them back? How do you feel about your friend knowing about this?
Increase your income
You generally can't just go and get promoted because you have decided it should happen. So what now? Work more hours? Get a second job? How will you physically cope with that? If you have children, what about childcare? Will all the extra income go on that? Again, is this a life or just living?
Answering those questions is exhausting, performing any of them is exhausting. You're tired.
No Income Increase
If you take the path of not increasing your income, you need to look at what you are spending on food and heating. Yes, making things from "scratch" is cheaper. This is mathematically true. But remember - you're tired. Making things from scratch after work when you're tired is even more exhausting. "Lazy" food such as ready meals, and processed foods are cheap, and easy. You can make them when you are tired. But then they affect your health, your body doesn't work at it's best. You're tired.
You get more hours, or another job, you have more money coming in to pay for the bills. But the longer working day is more tiring. Back to the cooking from scratch vs processed foods options. There is no win. You're tired.
The debt is increasing, with some borrowed money here, and a skipped payment there. It is constantly at the back of your mind, whispering "how will you pay me?". Some days you just can't cope anymore. You say "Fck it" and order a takeaway, but every mouthful you can hear the voice. You try to decide if your child should go on the school trip that would be incredible for them, or if you should buy new shoes as yours have holes in. You're tired.
This all assumes that you are working, and are able to work. What if you aren't?
Illnesses come out of nowhere, attacking the healthiest person. Maybe you got cancer. Maybe you got hit by a car and movement is now agony. Maybe you have preschool children and are now a lone parent for whatever reason. The list of possibilities is endless, don't ever think that you are safe.
So, where do we then turn? To our government. The theory is that we pay into it to then protect and support those in our society who need help. How does that work in the UK? The most common option is Universal Credit.
Oooh Flamey, tell us what this is. It sounds like some sort of income that would support those in need, in a kind of, universal way.
Indeed, that is what one would assume. It combines old things such as income support, housing benefit, tax credits, council tax benefits, into one lovely lump sum for you. No more multiple departments with pesky forms. No more payment mix ups. Yay!
The no more multiple departments thing is mostly true, so we get a tick for that. The rest, not so much.
First of all, you must update your "journal" on demand. If you miss updating it, no payment for you. Your journal is online. Many of those who need to claim UC don't know how to work computers, let alone have one online at home. They must go and find a library (that the government hasn't closed down), use their internet, and hope that they can update it.
Any messages saying they need to see you go on the journal. So you must regularly find the library, computer, work it, to check the messages as if you're a no show, no payment for you.
You got a job! If it is not earning enough to take you off UC, or is not enough hours, you must update your earnings once a month. Where? Yup, you got it, library, computer, figure it out, update journal.
This increase might mean that you're no longer entitled to Council Tax Benefit. Should be simple, just pay that regularly each month. Well.... simple if your hours and income are fixed. If they vary, so does your Council Tax bill. One month you could pay £20, the next £100. No stress there, worrying about if you will have enough to pay it.
This making your brain hurt just reading it? You're tired.
Now we come to the best bit - The Benefit Cap.
Nay, this is not a fine piece of headgear that you get to keep you warm whilst you walk to the library. This is how much you are allowed to be paid.
As you can see, the benefit cap for a couple, and for a single person with children is £1666 (the irony of that number I am sure is not lost on those who did the maths. If you're a couple with children, nope, same amount.
They very kindly tell you what your total entitlement is. I live in Bournemouth, the lowest four bedroom rental is £1250. This is the rates that Bournemouth Council will pay:
Moving away is not an option. So, based on three children, a couple, and the lowest rent, the "Total entitlement before deductions" would be: £2488.
Seems doable. Take off rent, and you have £1238 per month to live on.
But wait... you've forgotten the headgear haven't you?
You get £1666 and that's your lot. Take out your rent, and you have £416.
£416 covers all your bills and feeding a family of five.
Are you tired yet?
But you're ill!
But wait, you say. What if you are not working for legitimate reasons, not just that you are one of those pesky layabout scroungers? Isn't there help then?
Of course there is! We don't call it "Disability" anymore. No, no, no. That made it sound like we though there was something wrong with these people. Noooo. It is now "Personal Independence Payment". This lovely government is all about getting people back on their feet. Gently encouraging them to work.
So, you get the "ill" people to come to an assessment meeting, to discover how "ill" they are, and help them with the appropriate amount of money.
What? Those assessments are carried out by medical professionals? Eh... I hate to break it to you, but no. You don't have to have medical qualifications to be an assessor. Just ask a list of questions, you know the kind, 1 is "never" 10 is "always".
It's clear that some people are ill though, so the assessment must just be a formality. Of course, you are right. Nope, my bad. That's just a handful of articles about refused people, and people dying due to PIP.
I know, you don't have the little form in front of you, but let me tell you a story and you can decide if this is "ill" enough for PIP.
A person vomits 20+ times daily, every day. They experience constant stomach cramps. Any vehicular travel results in increased pain and vomiting. Walking is a struggle due to either needing to stop to vomit, or pain. Some days the pain is great enough that leaving bed is not possible, including not being able to cook their own meals. Shopping for themselves either involves transport (increased pain and sickness) to be able to get multiple bags back, or pain carrying them whilst walking (and being sick). Finances are difficult to manage due to impaired cognition from pain, or pain medication.
So, how many "PIP Points" are you giving them?
If you said any number other than zero, you gain nil point.
This is real.
These are the choices facing the most vulnerable of our society.
This is how debt piles up. It is how people kill themselves to stop the pain. It is how people kill themselves to give their children some hope of a future. It is how people kill their children so that they don't have to live in that future.
This is life in the UK under the current government. It is killing those of us who have ended up at the "bottom" of the pile.
I don't know about you, but I am so, so tired.
If you feel like it is all too much, and that you're just too tired to carry on, please talk to someone. You are not alone.
https://www.samaritans.org/ Call for free on 116 123
https://www.stepchange.org/ Free, impartial, debt advice