IT is a few years since I wrote about the working poor. But I want to let you know that I have moved on from blaming Joan Burton; the fact is, Leo Varadkar has ceremoniously taken up the mantle.
Thank you, Joan Burton. Thank you, Minister for Social Protection, for curbing my coffee addiction.
I cant call my previous habit of a daily coffee a vice, it was my lifeline. I dont drink, smoke, have new clothes, buy make-up nor have cool hip phones, gym membership or Netflix.
However, sometimes, the only adult interaction in my day was in buying my latte. The bit of banter made me feel human.
I don't think I would have ever chosen to give that half-hour routine up, but my financial changes since June drew a line under it, just as soon as my loyalty card freebies were drank. So you would think I should have seen it coming, my coffee withdrawal into insanity.
Last Thursday I could no longer deny my madness when I crossed from desperation into insanity. The straw that broke this womans back was two, yes, TWO cent.
I had already managed my money for the week, paid as much off my ESB, gas etc, as I could. I had just bought the remainder of a secondary school uniform on my birthday gift voucher I had earlier received: Grateful my birthday fell as it did as my Back To School Allowance still has not been processed – I didnt automatically qualify this year as my payment changed from one parent family to job seekers transition.
That transition is based on one day having a 12-year-old, the next day having a teen. Im a one parent family, and Im lucky as I work 15 hours a week for 10 an hour, an income of 150. Because of working, my transition payment is 128. I pay for our home, my family pay for emergencies – my latest emergency was school books.
My income equates to working for 60 more than the dole, dependant on my own circumstances.
As per the Transitional Payment information session, I would love to have a job where I could just ask for increased hours to qualify for Family Income Supplement (FIS) but in the real world, if the hours were optional, wouldnt I be working them?
There I was last Thursday, standing in a well known pharmacy and for a few moments after the cashier closed the till I stood still. I questioned if maybe I had put away my change, I knew I hadnt.
Then, aware of the queue behind me and my daughter in front of me, I felt too embarrassed to ask for it. What felt like minutes passed before I swallowed my pride down, as I had swallowed the lie that my education would lead me to security.
I forced myself to play the tape forward, my daughter in the kitchen saying You forgot the bread, mum. So, I turned to the cashier and half asked, half stated:You forgot my change? Smilingly, she stated: The banks are no longer doing small coins so we have none in our till.
No sorry, no we are rounding it up, nor down, rud ar bith. I went puse as I muttered You should have said, you should have said. She smiled sweetly. I realised in that flash the fine line between sane and insane as I stared at my receipt saying change 0.02, knowing I was now one cent short for the 89 cent loaf of bread I had carefully worked out.
Two cents made me question, complain, redden and finally go mad.
It meant a change of plan, not least a change of bread, but a change, a commitment to myself. I may be desperate, fed up and mad, but I am no longer swallowing down shame.
I try my best, I am honest, I am struggling. I am sick of hearing about fraudulent lone parents and other welfare claimants, I am sick of consistent poverty, I am sick of saying no to basic needs, I am sick of seeing a list of jobs or rather internships and CE schemes. I am sick of praying for change, and now sick of two cent coins, sick of pretending to cope.
But what I do have in the hope that it might change tomorrow, is that I know I will never assume about someones finances. I will never ask a colleague to pick up x, y or z and Ill fix you up later, nor will I say Thats a steel, you cant go wrong buying that, thats a bargain, or Thats only the price of a coffee.. Maybe that is what is meant by transition.
*Jude asked that we use just her first name.