The furore over whether people in poverty can be trusted with vouchers reminds me that, over the years, I’ve come across many people, some in low waged jobs and some, for various reasons not working. A thread about poverty, taking responsibility and budgeting. 1/n
Here are the stories of 3 women (yes, they are all women) who I met around the time the bedroom tax was introduced and who are typical of others I have come across in respect of the care they take with what little money they have 2/n
Woman A fell foul of the gradual increase in pension age for women that started from 2010 under the provisions of the Pensions Act 1995. She missed the deadline to collect her pension at 60 by 4 weeks. As a result she was also subject to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme 3/n
meaning that she had to pay 10% of her council tax. She was waiting for a transfer to a 1 bed home in the same village she was currently living in because she provided support for her daughter who lived nearby (daughter was a single parent who worked as a nurse in the NHS) 4/n
So she was liable to pay the bedroom tax, a contribution to her council tax as well as all her other bills. She had a very small income from a cleaning job as well as benefit. I asked her if she would tell me how on earth she was managing and she produced a small notebook. 5/n
The first page contained a weekly budget, subsequent pages were a record of EVERYTHING she spent. She paid everything monthly on direct debit (gas, electricity, Council tax, water and bedroom tax) she set aside a small amount (about £1.20 a week) to pay for contents insurance 6/n
This left her with £3.50 per week for food and toiletries. She didn’t smoke, drink, drive a car, have sky telly, smartphone, internet and lived very frugally. If she had to go to the job centre for anything the return bus fare (£7) wiped out her food budget for a fortnight. 7/n
There was no room for her to live with her daughter (she’d considered it) and 1 bed vacancies were few (only 2 the previous year and she wasn’t the only one waiting). Our team helped her claim Discretionary Housing Payment which meant that her food budget increased to £20 8/n
Although it was only £13 per week on the Job centre visit weeks (the job centre, as part of their work coaching, made her do a confidence building course that was fortnightly). She walked to the supermarket at the end of the day and made meals from what food had been reduced. 9/n
Woman B and her small child were placed in a 3 bed flat by the LA. She’d fled domestic abuse and had spent time in a refuge. She was trying really hard to rebuild her life and had managed to get her pre-school child into a nursery whilst she did a part-time, low paid job 10/n
Again she was caught by the bedroom tax (she was in a 3 bed property because we have many more 3 beds than 2 beds) and was liable for the 10% council tax payment. She claimed some benefit to top up her income. Again she had a book that she wrote down all her outgoings. 11/n
When I visited, her flat was freezing and, thinking I might need to ask someone to come round and repair it, I asked her whether the heating was working. She replied that she had switched it off because she couldn’t afford to have it on. 12/n
She told me she visited the library once a fortnight to check the weather forecast on the web. In the cold weather, she could afford to have heating for 9 days out of 14 and wanted to know which days would be the coldest. She also planned meals, every ingredient was listed 13/n
Woman C had 2 children in a 3 bed flat. The children’s ages meant that they liable for the bedroom tax. The children had been taken into care by the LA because of the extremely violent and controlling behaviour of her husband. This meant that her bedroom tax was increased 14/n
She was terrified of her husband and with huge courage and support from the police and other agencies, she took action to remove him from the home because she wanted her children back. She was trying to repay debt her husband had left her with, she knew exactly how much, 15/n
as well as pay bills and eat. One day, Woman C cycled to our office. It was a 9 mile cycle ride. She hadn’t eaten since the previous day and wanted us to refer her for a food parcel. We have her food out of our food bank collection box together with some milk from our fridge 16/n
She gave us back the packet of porridge we had given her because, she explained that she had no way of cooking it because her electricity had been disconnected. She told us that she had prioritised her rent because she didn’t want to lose her home and that she was working to 17/n
Clear the electricity debt next so that she could get the children home. The system was stacked against her.
Our team helped all of these women claim any additional benefits they may have been entitled to and supported Woman C in negotiating her debts. 18/n
Please don’t tell me that people in poverty can’t be trusted with vouchers. They can tell you exactly how much things cost and spend carefully. Vouchers are a better use of government money than food boxes, they enable people to buy reduced price food for e.g 19/n
People are savvy at charity shop shopping and buy stuff like school uniform second hand.
I’m in awe of the resilience and ability to cope and wonder if I could manage in the same way in the circumstances. I doubt it. Let’s have some respect and compassion for people please. Ends

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