My name is Brian, I’m a single parent father with one daughter who is in full-time education, studying for her A-levels. I am in receipt of legacy benefits, consisting of Income related ESA, Housing Benefit and Child Benefit. I have no family to ask for help / support and receive no help of any kind from my ex-partner. I have been a participant in Changing Realities from the start, following on from Covid Realities.
Earlier this year, Changing Realities (CR) organised a lobby day in Westminster, where a group of participants and researchers went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with MPs about the struggles so many families are facing. Following on from this, I recently went to speak to my MP, Ed Davey, about the cost-of-living crisis and how it is affecting – not only ourselves – but millions of other families from right across the UK. This includes an estimated 7600 families with children in the borough that I live in myself.
I was obviously nervous when the time came to speak to my MP in person, but a team member from CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) accompanied me for moral support. Having a friendly face by my side was a huge help to me. The meeting, I felt, went very well as I thought that my MP showed interest and understanding of the situation families are facing. He took away a zine booklet and information about the CR project put together by participants and researchers. He also gave me some advice about my own situation and the changes his political party (Liberal Democrats) would like to see in place to help the poorest in society.
However, not everyone seems to understand how the cost of living is affecting us. This is affecting me and my daughter in a very damaging way. Utility bills, such as gas, electricity and water are still rising; it has also been announced that the standing charge for gas / electricity is going to increased, meaning that families will be paying even more before even switching on the lights or heating. Already, thousands of families are unable to keep themselves warm during winter, and walk around their homes in darkness, increasing the risk of accidents.
There are also real problems for people being able to feed themselves and their families hot healthy food due to rising costs, which is made even worse for the poorest in society. For instance, the threshold for receiving free school meals is so low that few people actually receive them. Then there's the (un)fairness of how the system is run, the different rules governing different benefits, and the complexity of what you are able to claim for and how to go about it in an efficient way, so that claimants are not left waiting weeks for a payment, or pushed into debt, which adds even more pressure on families, and can lead to physical and mental health problems.
I told my MP, Ed Davey, about the everyday struggles that I face in bringing up my daughter to be able to fulfil her true potential in life – to give her a far better future than what I am able to provide. I, myself, am struggling with both physical and mental health problems, for which my daughter is also acting as my carer, on top of her studies. I made these key points:
We are not scroungers and many of us are unable to work due to illness, disability, or because we have dependent children that sometimes need extra help or care. We don't want luxuries that we can’t provide for ourselves, we just want to be treated with respect and understanding, asking only that we can provide the basic needs for our families. It is our children that ultimately suffer the most, including being bullied at school for claiming free school meals, or being unable to attend outings and after-school clubs – all children should be able to access these things in order to make the most of their childhood, and not end up in a life of poverty themselves.
In conclusion, it's a great experience to get the chance to speak to politicians and be listened to. I did feel that I was listened to carefully, and that a concerned interest was shown towards my situation. But too often we don't feel listened to, we feel that we are third-class citizens that are just trying to gain something from a system that, after all, is supposed to support people and families that are truly struggling with living a normal, healthy lifestyle.