I’m not someone who is driven by money, money, money. I’ve no desire to amass great piles of it, and I struggle with the idea of people having vast fortunes way beyond any person’s need.
It is very nice to have enough money, by that I mean enough to live comfortably, to pay one’s way in life and to be able to live a fulfilling life.
I haven’t been able to undertake paid employment for quite some time due to ill health and the process of ‘trauma recovery’. The latter can in itself be a full time occupation. I was in paid employment as a broadcast journalist when I met the man who became my husband and I was able to contribute to our union, but he went on to support me financially for some years due to my ill health.
I’ve been in receipt of welfare support or benefits for a little over a year and a half now. Obtaining them is a stressful, arduous and sometimes dehumanising experience. Some months after my marriage broke down, I found myself unable to afford to heat my home or buy food. A couple of friends helped out but I had to rely on food parcels for three months, from one of the UK’s growing number of food banks.
I receive Employment and Support Allowance (£250 per fortnight), Housing Benefit (£500pcm) and a discount on my council tax bill meaning that I pay around £30 per month instead of more than £100. My rent costs £670pcm. I live in a one bedroom flat. It’s not ‘flash’ but it’s certainly comfortable. It could be cheaper if I were to move, but this is the first truly safe home I’ve known. It’s my haven. I don’t have the money for moving costs and waiting lists are long for local authority-owned property.
I am extremely mindful of my privilege because I’ve been able to obtain some financial support from the Journalist’s Charity, the charity for people who work or have worked in that profession. A friend wrote recently about her gratitude in having been able to turn to ‘Pharmacist Support’.
With the support of the JC, I have been able to have my hair cut and coloured this week for the first time in over a year. What?! I know, you might hardly consider a ‘hair do’ an ‘essential’. It was a scraggy, greying mess and together with my alopecia (I have female pattern balding) it was having a big impact on my self esteem. I am happier and healthier for it.
I was also able to visit the dentist, after many months, for a much-needed appointment, because I finally had the £20 needed to pay the fee I owed for a short notice cancellation due to illness.
I’ve been able to make an appointment to have my eyes tested next month, two years overdue, because I will have the money to pay for the new spectacles I need. They will be available at a reduced rate because I am in receipt of ESA but will not be free.
I’ve also been able to buy a number of healthy ‘ready meals’ – a ‘godsend’ while I continue to wait for social care support twice a week to be put in place, and continue to struggle to have the capacity for cooking. The healthy part is vital, particularly as I continue to try to recover from an eating disorder.
On a few occasions I was able to take a taxi to get me to vital hospital and GP appointments that I would otherwise have been unable to make due to my health issues, and also to return home from buying food from a budget supermarket. Budget supermarkets do not make deliveries.
Without that charitable support … NONE of these things could have happened.
I have received support from the St Margaret’s Fund who gave me £200 towards the cost of a respite/convalescent break last year. I’m applying to another organisation in order to try to obtain funds for a similar break this year.
It is charity. I would rather not have to rely on it BUT at the same time I don’t feel ashamed about accepting it. I don’t find it easy to ask for that help but that’s because I know that in our society it does carry some sense of shame. People say things like ‘it’s not charity’ and they try to dress up ‘charitable support’ in some other way, as though accepting charity is a terrible thing to do. I’ve supported many charities, by donation and by fundraising, and I still donate, when I can, although just a pound or two here or there, supporting someone’s fundraising effort or buying a copy of the Big Issue. I believe in giving and I believe in sharing and I believe in a society that promotes opportunity for all, and which supports those who are in need.
Applying for the charitable support that I’ve received involves completing detailed application forms. I have often struggled to do this due to illness and have had to wait until such time as I could find just enough capacity to complete the task.
It’s struck me that much of the support available has a middle class tone. I was born and bred in a working class ‘cotton mill town’. I consider myself to be working class, but I know that many working class people would consider me middle class because of my privilege. I had a university education and have a professional qualification. I live in a middle class area, albeit on the edge of it and that of a ‘poorer’ area. I love literature, theatre, arts, read the Guardian newspaper and listen to BBC Radio 4. I consider those interests classless – I’ve loved all of them, with the exception of Radio 4, since my ‘cotton mill childhood’ (when I listened to Radio 1!) – BUT realistically I know that you need a certain amount of privilege to pursue them. It’s rare now that I go to the theatre because of the cost involved.
It seems that there’s privilege even among those who are poor. There is a charity offering financial support to ‘gentlewomen and artists’. I’ve seen others offering support to ‘gentlewomen’. Their definitions of what constitutes a ‘gentlewoman’ are undeniably middle class. They list ‘suitable’ professions and backgrounds, all of which you need to have had a certain amount of privilege to be able to claim. Being working class can considerably narrow one’s opportunities. A minority of students at Oxbridge come from working class or ethnically diverse backgrounds and that’s just one example.
What happens if you don’t belong to a profession with its own charitable body? What happens if you don’t have the means to discover that there are charitable organisations who may be able to help you regardless of your status, professional or otherwise? What happens if you don’t have Internet access, the default application process is now online, or aren’t even computer literate? I don’t envy those who must throw themselves entirely at the mercy of the state, run by many for whom privilege is everything.
Two links to UK based web sites that may be useful:
https://www.turn2us.org.uk/ – much useful information for people struggling financially and there is a section where you can search for organisations offering grants
http://www.disability-grants.org/grants-for-disabled-women.html – a database of organisations offering a variety of financial support to women with disabilities – the main site offers details for men too!
I love ABBA but I adore Meryl Streep, that’s the reason for the link to the Mamma Mia film version of the song at the top of this post!