Made to feel worthless

Bedroom Tax posterThe last two years have been a nightmare. A single woman of 47 years shouldn’t feel so scared, but I feel petrified for the future with the constant struggle of bad news, day after day. To be honest, I dread the arrival of the daily post. I fear the next chapter of bad news.

This story was shared with us by somebody involved in our campaign against the Bedroom Tax. Names have been changed.

Without revealing too much, I had sort of a mental episode just over two years ago, one of the lowest times in my life. I became reliant on alcohol over a couple of years and wasn’t aware I was drinking to cover up some really depressing moods I was having.

Anyway, thankfully I am fully recovered from the alcohol side of things and don’t really care if I touch another sip of the stuff – although at times, the pressure I have faced over two years, I could have easily gone back to it.

I still have the dark moods but now see that alcohol was the last thing I need. Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t go back there. My reliance on drink robbed me of my youngest child aged 8, who was taken into emergency care two years ago, and who I now get to see every six weeks.

I am paying for my mistakes, believe me – have done so for the past two years. Every knock, each setback I receive, I think it is deserved, in a strange sort of way, for allowing my life to get in such trouble and for what I’ve put my little girl through.

I am embarrassed by the way I feel, by what I’ve done, and by people’s perception that anyone who has depression is faking it, trying to claim sickness benefits.

There are so many negative reactions, the way the media and the government have joined forces to influence people’s opinions against the illness or anyone claiming benefits.

Life is tough, but now I feel like the lowest of the low. My benefits were cut in April by about £30 a week, and I existed for a short time on £140 a fortnight after failing a medical with ATOS and which I am appealing. The appeal process is set up to deny the claimant a set chunk of their Employment Support Allowance while the process is ongoing, which could take months to resolve.

It was the second medical I had been to. Having passed the first one I am still confused at failing the second, as my condition hasn’t changed.

It is one test of character after another.

Days after my ESA was cut, my financial situation hit deeper crises due to the government’s welfare reforms and the spare-room subsidy, which means I lose another £23 per week cut from my housing benefit for having two empty bedrooms in my home.

The “Bedroom Tax” caused me to plunge further into rent arrears. The loss of a third of my ESA added to the massive sum of £23 Bedroom Tax every week has left me in financial stress.

It didn’t help, either, that I was having ongoing problems with late payment of my Housing Benefit. It didn’t take long for my rent arrears to nudge past £800 (£500 late Housing Benefit; £300 Bedroom Tax).

My landlord sought possession of the property in July.

It was a shock to the system, taking delivery of the eviction letter. I was shaking as I read it. The worry of the inevitable happening was now a reality. Within a month I would face homelessness – I faced losing my home, four walls where I had brought up my three children. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this from life.

I visited the Ciizens’ Advice Bureau and arranged for some advice. The person I had the appointment with contacted the landlord on the phone. They revealed the late housing benefit had been paid in full (approx £550) a day earlier… but even now, they were only willing to stop the eviction if I agreed to pay them an extra £41 a fortnight (bedroom tax and £7.20 a fortnight off the arrears).

I feel that the representative of my landlord who I spoke to on the CAB’s phone backed me into a corner, by only considering calling off the eviction on two conditions:  (1) I must pay £41 a fortnight; and (2) I must sign up to Salford Home Search, to seek a smaller property.

It was like a knife to my throat – what else could I do but agree to pay the amount requested and agree to try to downsize? I knew it would be a real struggle paying the extra and looking for a new home, but I was desperate.

At that time, as I agreed to both outlandish requests, the simple facts were… Well, I was just relieved at the thought of having a roof over my head. It was more important than food or anything else.

The landlord was adamant… the eviction wouldn’t have been waived had I refused their two proposals. It was the latest in a series of pressures they had put on me.

In addition to my ESA (Employment Support Allowance) being cut by a third (£60 a fortnight), I now faced finding another £41 every two weeks to pacify the landlord!

Thankfully, so long as I don’t default on my agreement, I can remain in my home. I feel really impoverished, but it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages after the court said I could remain in my home.

These have been bleak times. Since April, my income cut in two, I now rely on approximately £50 per week – that’s to buy food, pay three utility bills, TV license and other essentials. I also try to buy my daughter, who is in foster care, little bits every pay week. I couldn’t go on a visit without taking her some small gifts.

I had to list in detail my income and outgoings for the courts. It worked out I had about £2 a week to spare when everything is paid! And now I’ve just received a final reminder for council tax!

It is so frustrating.

They take you to court because you can’t afford to pay, and each time there’s another £100 costs added to what you are struggling to pay! I incurred court costs with the rent arrears; it’ll probably be the same with the Council Tax.

The landlord say they can’t force me to move… but they, in addition to the government’s welfare reforms, have given me little scope. But it’s easier to say than do (to move), as recent figures show a meagre 90 properties are available to let compared with 1,800 people chasing them in my area of Salford alone

I feel worthless most of the time, nothing but shame, walking about in shoes that have seen better days and cloths on my back that I can’t recall when I bought.

I hear people, who have no idea what it’s like, speak so wisely and in such an uneducated way about us on benefits. Perhaps they have never been in this precarious position. Maybe they believe we all sit at home in the day, glued to our flatscreen televisions, believing all the hype, the media propaganda about benefits providing people with a life of Riley.

Don’t make me laugh.

Schools of ParticipationChurch Action on Poverty staff are working with people in Salford to campaign against the Bedroom Tax, as a result of a School of Participation we ran with local people on low incomes.

See this previous post for more information.

1 thought on “Made to feel worthless

  1. Pingback: The Bedroom Tax: an abuse of people’s human rights | A Fair Say

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