What is Universal credit and why am I feeling inspired by it? I imagine a lot of you will have heard about it on the news. It was the flagship policy of Ian Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms and began to be implemented from 2013. It has taken it’s time but it has reached me in North Yorkshire and as of January, I will receive the benefits that I am entitled to, through this system.
If you don’t know me from my blog, basically, I am a living, breathing cliche – a Single Mum on benefits. Not through choice though. I dated, got married and then had my baby, working up until a few weeks before the birth. I did it all in the ‘right’ order. However, when I was pregnant, I got really ill and my health deteriorated, down and down. My (now) ex husband left when my son was 7 months old and despite having a job to return to, I have not been well enough to. (Controversially, I was sacked or ‘made redundant’ from one of my jobs when I was pregnant and in and out of hospital but that’s a story for another day).
I have a blue badge and a whole host of health conditions that are still being investigated and diagnosed almost 5 years after my health began to fail. I suffer from horrific pain and fatigue but I still want to work.
After school, I went to college and completed my NNEB which is the old school equivalent of the NVQ3 in Childcare and Development. I became a Nursery Nurse and a few days after my 18th birthday, I entered full-time, 60 hrs plus a week, employment. Some years, I didn’t even take my holiday allowance and because I was a nanny in private homes, the minimum I worked was a 10 hour day. Towards the end of my career, I worked as a Maternity Nurse, which is basically a specialist baby nanny and the hours are 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. In my last job (the one that didn’t sack me) I worked up until I was 35 weeks pregnant, on crutches, taking codeine and in a lot of pain when I wasn’t in hospital. The Mum that I worked for was amazing and asked for the bare minimum from me but didn’t reflect that in my salary. My job was waiting for me to return to when Bear was a few weeks old and I could take him with me. I would get paid to raise my own son but due to my health, I had to resign.
The point that I’m trying to make is that I am not work shy.
On to the benefits. As a single parent, you can receive Income Support until your child’s 5th Birthday. It’s the same amount as you receive on Job Seekers benefit but you don’t have to supply evidence of job seeking and visit the job centre as often. As others, I do receive help with my rent and council tax and receive tax credits as well.
In the last few months, I have completed a Business Administration and a Customer Services qualification, I have completed level 1 and level 2 of the ECDL computer literacy qualifications, Level 1 of the AAT Computerised Accounts and I am half way through AAT Level 2 in Book Keeping. I have done these around my son being at nursery and now school and also on a night. I have tried so hard to get myself ready to return to work.
Sadly, what I have learnt from doing these courses is that my body can’t cope. I cannot do a physical job anymore as I can’t stand for more than a minute or two but I also find sitting at desks, really painful. When I write this blog, 9 times out of 10, I do it from bed. Typing for too long leaves my hand and fingers swollen, tight and sore, my shoulders burn and my neck is agonising no matter where I am, but in bed, I can reduce the pain on my neck, shoulders and back and strap a hot water bottle to wherever needs it the most.
I have pushed and pushed for my health to improve. I got a Labrador in part, so that I can take the gentle exercise that I need to help improve my Chronic Fatigue or M.E and Sero – Negative Arthritis and I return to the Dr’s so much that I hate it, but in order to keep moving things along. I have fought twice and only won once, for procedures that have been prescribed for my back but due to my postcode, are not funded. My parents have paid for me to have private examinations and X-rays in a bid to help me get my life back but I am still not able to do a lot.
What I can do, is work on this blog when I am well. I can rest when I need to, take days off when my health flares, work in the middle of the night when my insomnia kicks in and as I am now, work from bed. As yet, I have not earnt from my blog. I do get sent products to review but I do not charge for this, even if the product isn’t worth much and I don’t charge companies to talk about them. But I could have.
I have turned down offers of paid work and that’s where the problem has been. I looked into becoming self employed last year but the risk of too few or sporadic offers was too big. I couldn’t afford to not receive the help that I get but in order to be self employed and earn from my blog, I would have had to.
However, this is where Universal Credit comes in. It was designed to make work pay and for me at least, it will. Instead of just resigning myself to Employment and Support benefit (for when you are unable to work due to health and is supported by regular Dr’s notes) and not improving our lives, I can give my blog a go. I will be able to receive the benefits that I am entitled to but when I earn anything, I won’t immediately lose my benefits, the money I earn will be taken off the money I receive. I will be, in some way, standing on my own two feet and as my blog grows or my health improves, I may be able to earn more than I receive, therefore not claim anything and improve mine and my little boy’s lives. But, I have the safety blanket that if I end up in hospital again or when my health flares and I am forced to stop for what can be weeks at a time, I will still receive the bare minimum and we will have somewhere to live. I won’t be using that as an excuse not to try – believe me, but for those of us that want to work but have chronic health conditions, Universal Credit gives us an opportunity. It’s no wonder that I am feeling inspired.
Another difference with Universal Credit is that payments will be paid monthly instead of fortnightly and whilst a lot of people are worried about this, the truth is that it is better for us as in employment, you are rarely paid weekly or fortnightly and often its arrears – you have to work a month before you are paid and so it will help people learn how to budget and manage their monty so that employment isn’t a shock and that people don’t struggle as much with the change. My advise would be to try and save a pound or two here and there, go without something in order to build up a small amount of money so that when you do switch over, you will manage. Buy extra bits of food for the cupboard so that if money is tight at the switch, you have something to fall back on. I know it’s hard but in order to move on, we have to change.
I was so excited when I went to discuss this with the single parent advisor at the job centre. I have been given a chance to get some of my independence back, some pride and some self worth. I have a head full of idea’s of things I might be able to do and ways to earn money from my bed.
I know that by writing this, I am opening myself up to trolls as so many people struggle financially and don’t get any help but I am not living this life through choice and I have and continue to do everything I can, to get back to standing on my own two feet.