We’ve been through some big changes in our house in recent weeks. My Chris got a new job. He resigned from his old job. Then his former boss gave him a reference which led his new potential employers to withdraw their job offer. We’re yet to see the reference, so haven’t yet made a decision as to how to proceed, but in the meantime his new employer confirmed that there is no appeals process and that they have to take the reference on face value – which leaves my husband unemployed. We’ve gone from delight at his new job and the positive changes it would bring for our family, to total disbelief and dismay as the opportunity slipped from our grasp.
One of the most difficult aspects for me has been the change in my self-erception. I consider myself left-wing, very liberal and open-minded. Yet now that we’re living off the state, I realise that my judgements about people on benefits are actually negative and deep-rooted. As much as you think the anti-’scrounger’ rhetoric of the Daily Mail passes you by, I find that some of these ideas have wormed their way into my consciousness. The thought of people on benefits having expensive gadgets, new clothes, holidays or indeed, enjoying themselves at all at ‘my expense’ starts me tutting and grumbling. So now that we are some of those people on benefits, I’ve started scrutinising my every spending decision.
I’m very grateful to receive state support and, for want of a better phrase, I don’t want to take the piss. So now the money that I’d already been given to buy myself a Christmas present from family has gone into the household budget, along with any money Chris would have spent on a present for me. I’d already bought some presents for the boys – there are a few more things on the list that I’d have liked to get them, but now I’ll just stop with what I’ve got already. My trusty black handbag has started to tear and I’d like to replace it, but now I’m thinking “we’re on benefits – surely I should just use the torn but functional handbag, or my perfectly good brown handbag that doesn’t match my shoes and clashes with my hat?”. The other day I found myself cooking ox-tail stew in the slow cooker, embracing the frugal lifestyle – sadly it was greasy and unpleasant and not that cheap anyway. More lentils next.
A side-effect of this spending guilt is that it’s left me at a bit of a loss about the blog. I was planning to do a post about my favourite iPhone apps (on the dole with an iPhone?! When hard-working families can’t afford one?) and about some products I’d bought and liked. Is it a total contradiction to be writing about living on benefits and about stuff I have bought, or would like to buy?
I still haven’t figured out how exactly our benefits will work. On the plus side, we’re allowed to make a joint claim whilst both remaining self-employed. This is great news as it means that I can continue to build up my Phoenix business, and Chris can maintain his skills, keep improving his design portfolio and make new contacts through more freelancing – as long as we each work under 16 hours per week. We submit our profits when he signs on every fortnight – whether the level of benefits we’ll receive is a simple ‘x – profit’ calculation or something more complex, I’m not sure. But even if being self-employed makes us worse off financially, I think it’s still very important to keep up as it means that when one of us gets a job, the other will have a part-time income that they can continue to develop as the kids get older (which was always our intention anyway as we were both looking for jobs).
I’m a positive person. There are lots of good things about our situation. We’re all together, all in good health. There are people worse off than us in every town in the UK, and families living through crises all around the world. We are very lucky. Chris is spending every day caring for the children alongside his job hunting (as am I). If we don’t find a job straight away, we can use this as an opportunity to study – Chris had signed up for a Maths GCSE course to start in September, but the long hours and travelling he was doing meant that it just wasn’t feasible. Now he’s planning to start the course in January, and it could lead to A-levels and opportunities to pursue his new-found interest in physics and astronomy. I’ve been looking at college courses myself – when I left school and did a Philosophy degree I was thinking only of my interests and not of developing skills for a sustainable, recession-proof career; here’s a chance to reevaluate, assess my strengths and find something that really suits.
I can’t lie, this is a bad time for us – probably the worst thing to happen in our relationship. But we are positive, we are happy. Life moves on, we will cope, and we will come out of this stronger and happier than ever.