Thursday, 17 September 2015

Cutting Tax Credits - What it Means to me

Dear Mr Cameron,

You and your party have been brilliant at supporting me and my children over the past few years. As a single parent, I have drawn on the wonderful NHS many times (brain injury, cut to the face, lump in breast, plus numerous trips to the dentist and trolley-loads of contraceptive pills) - thanks for that. We’ve been regular visitors to the library, to try to satisfy my younger son’s reading habit. As a single parent, I get a 25% reduction off my council tax. My children’s schooling is rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted (but actually, I think it’s outstanding). And that’s all brilliant.

But by far the greatest help that I have received from the Government since being a single parent are Tax Credits. And you have just cut them. So now I’ll be about £1000 worse off every year.

I heard you on the radio today, saying that you have cut them because you want to encourage people into work. I don’t understand. I work. I work bloody hard at my job. And then I come home, and work bloody hard at being a mum.

I’m have pretty average responsibilities at work, and am on a pretty average wage. I work school hours. And all of this is by choice. Yes, I am one of your simpering scroungers who chooses not to earn more money. I choose to work locally, and I choose to be home very soon after my boys come home from school. I choose not to have a job which will call me away.


It’s to do with family values, Mr Cameron. I think the Tories were belting on about them not so long ago. In fact, in 2009, you said that they were the key to building a responsible society.

As a teenager, I had absent parents. I remember letting myself into my house with my key, and making Findus Crispy Pancakes with oven chips. You probably don’t know what Crispy Pancakes are; all you need to know is - they’re not crispy, and they’re not pancakes.

My Mum arrived home at 6pm, well after The Wombles had finished. And my Dad - well, sometimes I was in bed when he got back from work.  Parental absence like this is not good for a child. Did you know that, statistically, a teenage pregnancy is most likely to happen in that hour, or hour and a half, between the children getting home from school, and the parent coming in from work?

There are all sorts of reasons why I want to be there for my children. As teenagers, they need me just as much as they did when they were little. They are going through so many changes, and I want to be there to support them. And the Government should support me in this. Because it is in your interest for me to raise two bright, motivated, happy and healthy men.

Why then, are you cutting my Child Tax Credits, and forcing me to work longer hours? Why are you insisting that I become an absent parent? A parent already stressed and guilt-ridden about working too much, forgetting appointments and arriving late? Surely you can see that, by closing down your support, you are undermining all the hard work that I have put in over the past few years. By cutting tax credits, you are dismantling my family values, not supporting me in building them.

“The goal of welfare reform should be to reward hard work and protect the vulnerable.” So says your 2015 manifesto. Well I work bloody hard. And now I’m vulnerable.

You haven’t thought this through, Mr Cameron. And neither have your chums who voted ‘yes’ today.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The importance of telling people that they matter

I can’t remember exactly when I realised that I needed to tell people what they meant to me. It may have been triggered by my Dad’s stroke, a day of near-loss. The day after, I remember thinking: I almost didn’t tell him how much I love him. He almost died without hearing it from me.

And so, when he was sufficiently recovered, I picked up the phone and dialled his number. I knew that, as a Yorkshireman, he would be excruciatingly embarrassed. But I hoped that, when the call had finished, he would be left with a warmth, a sense of achievement perhaps, as a parent, and of love.

As it happened, his stroke had made him surprisingly receptive to touchy-feeliness, and he not only soaked up my compliments (how much I loved him, how much I appreciate what he does for me, what he means to me), but also handed them back to me in good measure. The phone call brought us closer together and we have both never forgotten it.

I left it too late for my Granny. It was only when she was in the dark depths of dementia that I realised I had never told her how important she had been in my life. How she had been my female role model. How her kindness and humour had, in part, formed me. But mostly, just to say thank you. I missed telling her, a bit like missing a bus – the difference being that there were no more buses due.

So from then, I have tried to tell people when they have enriched my life. This has meant that I’ve written many thank you letters, or emails, to customer service employees when they’ve done a great job. (I also complain too, by the way, when they haven’t – I’m not a bleedin’ saint.) It occasionally means that I approach strangers in the street if they’re wearing something that’s made me smile – a great hat, perhaps. Or some wonderful shoes.

And it also took me to an awkward place today, with my GP. I’d only seen this lady once before. It was when Tween seemingly wasn’t improving after his head injury. I had given up work to care for him, and we were all very low. Dr G was the first, and the only, medical professional to say, “He will get better.” Her words gave us hope. That little phrase turned my life up from a 3 to an 8; she made us smile again. And she was right, too – he did get better.

I saw her again today about a ‘lady issue’, which she handled kindly and professionally. She was late, her computer wasn’t working, and she was obviously stretched. And yet the voice in my head was saying, “You’ve got to tell her. DO IT DO IT DO IT.” So just as I was getting my stuff together, I blurted out something along the lines of, “youweretheonlyonetotellusandyoumadeahugedifference, andhedidgetbetterandsomeofthatI’msureisdowntoyou.” She smiled and told me it was a lovely thing to hear on a Saturday morning.

And suddenly I couldn’t talk anymore, because I was crying.

I gave her an apologetic smile, and left.