My thoughts on Pay-to-Stay
It is my understanding that the government’s ethos has been focused on getting people back into work and off state benefits; through their Welfare to Work programme, by making benefit claimants more accountable to the government, by frequently reassessing eligibility with the claimant, and having to prove that you are actively looking for work. As a lone parent of two young boys – my youngest just turned 4 in June – I have turned up every six months for my job centre interview to check in on my journey to re-enter the work place. This has been a requirement of me to receive benefits. As I have been in graduate school the last three years the story has been the same: ‘Yes! I am still at University and the day I hand in my dissertation is on August 12th 2015 and my graduation is in November’.
A few weeks before my deadline, I received an appointment letter calling me in for an interview on August 13th, the very next day after my submission. Not only did I have the stress of completing my research whilst juggling two small boys, I now had to manage the fear of my benefits being somehow sanctioned if the job centre employee, behind the desk, decided I wasn’t working hard enough to demonstrate my willingness to work. I felt the DWP’s noose tightening around my neck. Furthermore, as a lone parent – it was slap bang in the middle of the summer holidays so I had to arrange childcare. I was full of anxiety as I attended the interview. They now want to see me every three months instead of six; they are keeping the pressure on to make sure I am looking for work.
The irony is I do want to work. Since becoming a single parent I have looked at ways to maximise my employability in anticipation of my children starting full time education. I volunteered and became involved with my HA’s Resident Scrutiny Panel in 2011, when I was still pregnant with my youngest. I even took him to meetings when he was a baby.
I have just successfully passed my MA degree and was even awarded the Chartered Institute of Housing Prize for Best Dissertation. I feel I have done everything in my power to improve my employability. As I was watching the summer budget, I actually wept. I have just spent the last three years studying in a field that the Chancellor – in one wave of his hand – just literally smashed with a giant hammer!
Our sector is currently in crisis mode, looking for ways to absorb the one-per-cent rent reduction that has been imposed. With the inevitable cut-backs, I am fearful of benefit sanctions if I am not successful in securing employment. Conversely, when I do enter employment, I am then faced with the impact of the proposed cuts in working tax credits. It has been rumoured that single working parents will be the hardest hit by these cuts. What’s more; when I start earning above £30,000.00 per year, I will be affected by the ‘Pay-to-Stay’ scheme. However, I happen to live in one of the most expensive places outside of London and if I have to pay the market rent for my two-bed flat, it would almost certainly double my social-rent; if not more. Then the only logical choice I would have would be to invoke my ‘Right-to-Buy’.
With my discount, a mortgage could potentially be cheaper than my current social rent. Is it just me or is this madness to the nth degree? I feel tied up in knots.
I never intended to be a lone parent living in social housing and receiving benefits. My mother unexpectedly passed away almost four years ago – the plan had been for her to help out with childcare. I have worked really hard trying to better myself and the future of my children and there have been a many trade-offs in my attempt to pull myself out of my situation.
The government has now changed the goal posts. When will this lunacy end?