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Why things can and must get better

10 Oct, 2023

Hi, my name is Jo Barker-Marsh, I am mum to a 14 year old boy with additional needs, I have been a participant on the Changing Realities project since the beginning. I was an audio visual producer in another time.

My son and I survive on Universal Credit as I am unable to find work which can fit around my son’s needs and the commitment I have of getting him to and from provisions. I am a lone parent with zero familial support and I, am one of many. I wrote and rewrote this piece because I just didn’t know how to tell you all, in a way that I knew would make you listen, how hard life is when you are living in poverty.

I want to be able to convey to you the acute loneliness which accompanies poverty, but I know you might think that ‘many people are lonely’…

I want to be able to convey to you the feeling of extreme hunger, the things it does to your body as your mind works overtime to block out the pain, although I know there will be some people who just don’t believe this is my truth.

I wanted to convey to you, just how cold the inside of a room can be when you can’t afford to heat it, but you might think I am lucky to have a roof over my head. I am here to tell you that we cannot carry on living in the way that we have become accustomed to. That our children are growing up to feel resentful and sad and worried and in pain, as they see the gaping chasm of disparity between those with the means to live a happy and fulfilled life, and those without.

We look to politicians to listen and to really feel the distress and confusion of our current situations. To believe that there is a way to be able to address the tremendous societal inequalities in what is the 6 th richest nation in the world. I think the most important thing I want to share with you, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. That the courier who cried on my doorstep because he is working ten hours a day, six days a week for £600, should expect a better income. That the woman who works from home, snatching moments of time with her child, should be able to shop and not worry so much about the cost of that shopping.

It is not just those living on social security who are suffering, living hand to mouth and quietly losing relationships with partners whom they love, unable to spend worry free time with their families. It is not simply a case of ‘heat or eat’, although I appreciate that for some, this is the most comfortable way to frame the heartbreaking reality for so many people in the UK. It is isolation, a lack of support services, sanctions at the source of our income, a lack of recognition that child benefit has not risen in line with anything at all in the previous years.

Being constantly told that you do not fit the criteria for support is devastating and at some point, learned helplessness creeps in, and we just don’t ask for help any longer. We are stigmatised anyway, for needing that help in the first place. We see that there absolutely is money in the pot if our government is brave enough to tax huge corporations benefiting from our desolate reality. That if we looked at the right way to do things, we can see that the billionaire who benefits from this country and its people, ought to be expected to pay fairly, back into the system.

The wholesale waste of public funds by the incumbent government has left many of the people I know and communicate with, speechless, furious and at times, helpless to know what to do to change this. We look to politicians, to make difficult decisions which will ultimately benefit the whole of our country both now and, in the future. We look to politicians, to spend the money they are entrusted with wisely, to take a ground up view of how we can challenge what has become a most disgraceful status quo.

Many of you here will not understand how awful it feels to continually tell your child ‘no, we can’t afford that’, to find out that your child has been speaking to their teacher and telling them the truth you try so desperately to hide, that heating your home, is a luxury. That you have to eat food with little nutritional value because you are told it costs more to produce or import the ‘good stuff’. Our situations are viewed through such a biased lens, through a lens that hasn’t ever been roughed up by the shame of attending a foodbank or asking for help when feeling at our lowest and least deserving.

I would like to close by telling you all, this WILL come back to society and it WILL inevitably cost so much more in the future to care for the broken people being created now by inaction and the inability to be brave enough to fight for us and for what is morally right. I know and support so many people who do not want this to be their reality. There is a solution to this ‘crisis’ we are facing, and, rather than seeing people like my son and I as the problem, I would ask you to listen to us, we can be an important part of that solution.

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