I am quoted in The Observer today, in a piece about the tax credit cuts that have recently been voted in. Under the heading, Case studies: people in the front line, there is a photo of S and I and information from a short interview I gave last week.
I’ve done my best to avoid reading the comments on that piece, because we all know the golden rule of things like this is: never read the comments. However, there was only a short paragraph devoted to S and I so I thought it might be pertinent to explain more, for those who care to read.
I am self employed, and this year saw my first tax return where my self employed income was my only income. Even I was shocked at how low the final figure was when I submitted my return. Each month I invoice my clients, and when they pay me I pay my rent and major bills, and then do an online food shop to stock up on essentials for the month. Whatever is left, I try to put back into my business in order to expand my knowledge and earning ability. There is always something else that needs to be bought, though – especially at this time of year.
I get around £20 per month in child maintenance. Yes, you did read that right; it is not a typo. When that £20 comes in, I usually use it to replace a couple of items from S’s wardrobe that have become too small. At this time of year, it will go towards a new coat, winter shoes, gloves and suchlike. That’s when it turns up. Often it doesn’t arrive for a few months, and then I need to call the CSA to chase it. They’ve not contacted me about the changes to the system yet, so I’m not sure whether we will continue to receive that money.
I receive £247 in tax credits per week. £150 of that is paid immediately to nursery. S loves nursery, and after rent it is the most important bill I pay. I do not pay late; I do not miss payments. I cannot afford to lose S’s place at nursery. What is left of that £247 is what we live on for the week. It pays for our electricity, which is on a meter and topped up weekly with a key. At this time of year, I’m putting £30 a week on in the hope that we can build up a bit of a cushion for the colder months in the new year. We have not put any heating on yet. I will hold out as long as possible before we do that; the two heaters we have in the flat use up electricity like you wouldn’t believe, and we’re still waiting for our landlord to put in some new ones which we’re hoping will be more cost effective.
I do not smoke. I do not drink. I do not go out for meals. I have not been to the cinema for almost four years. I do drink Coke Zero; I think that and chocolate are my only vices, the only areas in which we could cut back. It’s not like when these cuts come in, we’ll just knock the horse riding lessons on the head, or I’ll have to limit my nights out to once a month. It’s not like I can just stop buying flat screen TVs and fags with my benefit money.
I am lucky, in that I am self employed. Although my income is low, there is always the potential to increase that. I can put up my prices; I can find more clients; I can work more hours; I can diversify what I’m doing. Before I was made redundant, I was on a set wage with no chance of a pay rise or promotion. Because of childcare, I could only work the 15 hours per week I was contracted for; there was no way for me to increase the amount of cash in my pocket each month. Being self employed might seem more precarious to those in employment, but for me it feels like I have more control – and more hope, in the face of these tax credit changes.
Others are in employment, working all the hours they can, for minimum wage. When these cuts come in, they do not have the potential to just work more, just charge more, just find more work. They are stuck with wondering whether they could perhaps look for a job that will pay more. In the current climate, how likely is that?
I cannot fathom what the government hope to gain by this. People have said it will be Osborne and Cameron’s “Poll Tax moment” – but the truth is, the people who are reliant on these tax credits daren’t take a day away from work to go and riot in London; they have mouths to feed and bills to pay. They can’t risk losing their job to go and protest against these cuts.
And yes, you can go ahead and say people shouldn’t have had children if they couldn’t afford them. You can say people should have done better in school and got a better job. You can say we shouldn’t be sponging off the government; you can say we still have a better quality of life than people twenty or thirty years ago. None of that will change the fact that this government seems insistent on punishing the poor. You can say what you like about me, but the fact is that me and my daughter are one and the same. Punish me; you punish her. And she has done nothing to deserve the distain with which this government treats her. None of these children have.