Grim Reality Tales - Stage One Booklet
True stories of life for members of Bradford’s ‘Hope Rising Action Group’ affected by the Benefit Cap and other recent reforms to the State Welfare System 2017
Edited: Julie Pryke
Research: Julie Pryke, Julie Longdon and HRAG members
Introduction: Why I am against the Benefits Cap
The cap - which limits the income households receive in certain benefits - has been reduced from £26,000 a year to £20,000 a year outside London.
This is a tax on the poorest in our society.
Those who can afford it least, who struggle to make ends meet, for whom poverty is a daily reality of going without what others take for granted, are being punished for no reason.
The UK country is the fifth richest in the world. The UK now has a million millionaires. There is no reason why wealth should not be shared more fairly so that everyone can enjoy their life.
Poverty causes stress which is damaging to physical as well as mental health.
Homelessness will increase as people find they are unable to pay their rent and eat. This causes further stress and disruption to people, and damages their health and their children’s life chances.
People are more at risk of theft and burglary as their neighbours struggle to balance paying bills. I attend a group which organises to fight the Benefits cap and one woman has been burgled twice, once a couple of weeks ago. She is a single parent of a five year old child. She is a fantastic parent who loves her child to bits. The burglars left the house trashed. The woman was so distressed she vomited. Since the event she has tried hard to reassure her daughter that they will be safe. The daughter has been very anxious and her mum is trying to find ways to distract her.
Another woman in the group was going without food to ensure she could feed her children, pay the rent and give her children the same opportunities their and did not want to visit a food bank. Why should she?
The Benefit cap is mainly a punishment of women and children. The GMB union described the lower cap as "a monstrous new assault on 40,000 single mothers, which risks shattering the life chances of children up and down our country".
The Gingerbread group, which campaigns for single parents, said 43,700 single parents with a child under the age of five would be hit by the cap.
"The new benefit cap is likely to drive more single parents into poverty. Many will have to choose between the roof over their children's heads and other essentials such as food and heating," said Gingerbread policy officer Laura Dewar.
There are not enough properly paid jobs or affordable childcare to make working an option for many parents.
The book ‘The Spirit Level’ evidences research which shows that everyone benefits from societies where wealth is shared fairly. There is less crime, people are healthier, safer, happier. This is the case across the world
There seem to be no winners from this policy. What is the point of making people suffer? There is plenty of money to go round.
This booklet, ‘Grim Reality Tales’, has been produced by a group of residents in Bradford West, all of whom are on low income and have been hit by either the Welfare Benefit Cap or other recent reforms to the state Welfare System. Their circumstances are all very different; their sudden descent into poverty, deprivation, destitution and social exclusion has been very similar!
The ‘Hope Rising Action Group’ was founded in February 2017. With this part of the project, the intention of the group is to inform Parliament, the media and the wider society by providing a book of current, up-to-date and useful case studies. These are currently being collected from residents throughout the city, to enable a real understanding and empathy for their circumstances and those of similarly placed citizens of the UK in 2017.
Case 1: Jane
A single Mum to two children, Jane has struggled since the departure of her partner. However she is more concerned about the problems facing her cousin who offered much support to her when she needed it. Her cousin is being affected by the benefit cap, she has children ranging from 2 years to 12 years and she cannot find work that fits in with her childcare needs as the father is absent and has no contact and offers no financial support. She is concerned for the mental and physical health of the children who are malnourished, poorly clothed, lacking adequate shoes and very stressed by the separation of the parents and by being targets for bullying at school. In turn this is affecting the mental health of the cousin as she struggles to care for the family and home. Jane fears for the family as they struggle under the Benefits Cap system.
Case 2: Louise
Louise lives with her partner and 4 children in an industrial city in the North of England.
Louise has always brought up the children. Her partner has always worked and brought a wage in, most recently in a food processing factory doing largely manual work. However he suffered a slipped disc in his lower back at work in May 2016. He had had back pain before but this time it is a lot worse. As at March 2017 he is still off work and now has no job to go back to as his employer eventually laid him off saying they could not keep his job open for him. He waited from May 2016 to Feb 2017 to see a consultant. Louise’s partner is on ESA without the supported element (his ESA is income related). He cannot put his own socks on. He sometimes needs help getting out of the bath. He is not a small man. He is big and big-boned and since the accident he has put on a bit of weight. Louise is quite petite.
Louise had received maintenance for her eldest child since his birth until it stopped recently without warning or explanation. She has not been able to contact the maintenance provider and this is ongoing cut in income for the family.
In all, the family is living on:
· ESA (income related e.g. ‘unsupported’)
· Child benefit for four children
· Child tax credit for four children
· Free school meals x4
· School uniform help for four children
· Free milk for three children (one as in reception, 2 as low income)
· Housing Benefit 50p (leaving c£98.86 for them to pay)
Since the housing benefit cap came in Louise has gone into arrears with the rent and this has never happened before. With her partner working, not even getting housing benefit, the rent was always paid and up to date. Now, Louise and her partner are striving to keep paying rent as they are very scared of losing their (council) home.
Louise is constantly on the lookout for jobs for herself but struggles to imagine how on earth she can find a job with such dependent children and at the moment her partner needing so much help.
There are problems of pain management and hospital visits for the partner, the house is in a bad state of repair and the group is currently pursuing the issue of a faulty central-heating boiler on her behalf. Louise is stressed out deciding what to pay. Robbing Peter to pay paul. Electric or food? Food or shoes? Clothes or rent?
There are many other presenting worries for the family and the children are unable to engage in out of school activities or home entertainment due to costs. Only the strong commitment of both parents to the family unit allows the unit to survive – just!
Case 3: Marie
Marie was brought up in a difficult family situation of poverty and abuse and sought to change her life by joining the RAF at 17. She then moved into a flat of her own and eventually moved into a relationship. The partner is the father of her three children, two during the initial relationship and, after she had left her partner due to his heroin addiction and physical abuse, one child after she was traced and an attempt made to begin a more positive stage for the family.
“When I was 5 months gone with my 2nd baby, I found out that my partner had relapsed. So then I became a single Mum back on benefits, living on an estate. I was struggling financially so I decided to go to the job centre to get advice and get back to work. I was advised that I would be better off in work but that unfortunately wasn’t true, I got behind with my rent and poll tax – which I only recently have paid off. I suffered domestic violence through the on off relationship even when we split up for good.”
10 years later she is engaged in voluntary work at a local community centre and is taking courses when available but her history leaves her unable to get paid work as others always have better references and paid experience.
Everything is day-to-day, hand-to-mouth living. She takes the burden on herself in order to feed cloth and house the children. Her health is affected though malnutrition, eating regularly only every other day if she’s lucky and otherwise hoping (and yet not hoping) for leftovers from the children’s food. The children have restricted activities due to costs and the DWA have tried to control any such spending; her eldest suffers with anger-management issues. She is in private rented accommodation and the Benefit Cap is leaving her terrified of becoming homeless and she now has to find £150 per month towards the rent.
She has no help from the father, he owes the family £1500 from the period when he was working and now, even though he is working illicitly, she cannot claim a penny from him. Now, the Child Support Agency claim £10 per fortnight from him and she feels the family is being penalised by, in effect, having to suffer for his additive habits and have to meet much greater, impossible costs from a reducing budget. She feels support should be given to take fairer payments from him.
She is extremely worried about her own health and also the long-term effects of these punitive measures on her children.
Further Cases currently being extended, recorded and prepared for publication and will be recorded as distinct summaries.
Based on Evidence forms Submitted to -
The Work and Pensions Committee launches an inquiry into the benefit cap and how it affects British households. The Committee welcomes written submissions. Deadline is Friday 7 April 2017. (Chair: Frank Field MP)