Leo, I hope one day my poverty only takes up 20.7% of my worries

It’s been more than three years since Jude* penned a heart-wrenching letter to Joan Burton that stirred a huge reaction. Following a St Vincent de Paul report last week, on working poverty, she’s written to us again
Leo, I hope one day my poverty only takes up 20.7% of my worries
A rag out of the first letter that Jude* sent to us back in 2015.

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.

The Taoiseach recently challenged a report which showed that the number of working single-parent families living in poverty has doubled in five years.

The report from the Society of St Vincent de Paul found that in 2012 one in 11 working lone parents was living below the poverty line — that jumped to one in five in 2017.

However, Leo said: “I don’t think it (report) tells the full picture.

“It fell to 23.1% in 2014, a slight increase to 23.9% after that, 23.2% after that and 20.7% in 2017, so the figures we have are down on 2013.”

The Taoiseach was delighted to find different statistics that boasted a 2.6% decrease in working parents who are in long-term poverty. How could you be proud of that?

I wasn’t present for the conversation so I’ll take it with a grain of salt, just as I did last year on reading that half of Ireland’s TDs are millionaires. It doesn’t really matter what is said, it is actions that count.

You may recall I was so broken and broke that the rounding up of the 5 cent caused me humiliation when I was short 2 cent for bread. As we all love a good soap opera, let me fill you in on the past three years...

When I last wrote I was hoping to be made permanent in my job, my hours were up and down but overall I was positive. Not long afterwards I had an unsuspecting lump removed which led me into a relationship with cancer. I was incredibly fortunate that it was out before I knew.

Months later, and on the week that I was given the all clea,r I had started a new job with better hours and pay. I even went for a run to celebrate! All the positive affirmations, YouTube videos and vision boards in the world couldn’t have predicted how happy I could be.

The second week into my new job I had an accident which led to five months off work. The irony is not lost on me! I was ecstatic that my employers gave me my old job back and I gratefully skipped back to work. However, now I have a permanent disability and can only work short hours.

I should really be retraining because in the long-term I won’t be able to sustain my job, but to do what? My disability is not chronic enough to warrant personal assistance yet I cannot function like before. It has made a liar out of me; I constantly say “It could have been worse”, or “ It’s not too bad”, whereas it has changed my life.

MAKING EVERY CENT COUNT: Back in 2015 Jude* (not her real name) shared her story — see Echolive.ie to read her previous pieces. Picture: Stock
MAKING EVERY CENT COUNT: Back in 2015 Jude* (not her real name) shared her story — see Echolive.ie to read her previous pieces. Picture: Stock

My employers have been marvellous and stretched my hours to 19 so that I can receive family income supplement. You may recall I wrote that it used to grate on my nerves when I heard the saying ‘You are exactly where you are meant to be’. It still grates on my nerves.

My one and only will be 18 soon and my FIS along with their Children’s Allowance will be coming to an end. They will be out of regular school and on a community scheme. I can’t afford to think of that birthday. They have taught me many things; not least that four cans of supermarket lager is cheaper than my once precious latte! Or that the same dinner for three days running is considered gross! I have a whole diary on the joys of a teen and it ain’t a fairytale like ‘Adrian Mole’. But I digress.

On the bright side I learnt a lot from sharing my story the last time, especially about love. I continue to be supported by my pensionable parents, both emotionally and financially. More often than not, that means getting my shopping for me and always giving the child pocket money.

Tough times have also shown me where love can get lost. Again, a relative suggested that my situation is all of my own doing, I should have put my child in a full-time creche and availed of the plentiful work of that time. In hindsight it could be true, who knows? They could make a good politician, it is a harsh view.

Another relative suggested that I should supplement my income with night work — just ignore that I can barely sustain my 19 hours. It varies day to day whether I concentrate on love or on the lack of. Ultimately it is only what I feel about myself that counts.

Over the weekend I heard many talks on gender balance and how we struggle to make significant progress. I couldn’t but think that while, of course, gender inbalance is palpable and real, it is also an easy target for the focus of all inequalities. I wonder if we were to achieve gender balance, what would change?

On the one hand it puts a tremendous pressure on women not to succumb to power, control and money. Are women that different to men? Men don’t live in isolation without mothers, sisters, partners and vice versa. Secondly, and what I believe is at the root of all inequalities is a lack of love for humankind.

The opposite to love is fear. Fear keeps a hold on power and control. Who in a position of power will willingly give it up and thereby share their money? Some men and some women will and some men and some women won’t.

While indeed we must keep bringing our attention and our fight to gaining equality — but we must do so through loving each other.

It is with love tonight that I can share my story. I am now middle aged, still a single mum, a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, colleague, volunteer, grey-haired, wise, silly, healthy, lazy, active, scared, quiet, proud, disabled, chatty, shameful, funny, fat, ugly and gorgeous woman who also happens to be poor.

Like all the good workers of the country I rise early in the morning. Sometimes I get up around 3am for a cuppa cos I can’t sleep, my hope is that some day my poverty only takes up 20.7% of my worries.

"I had already managed my money for the week...." Stock picture, posed by model.
"I had already managed my money for the week...." Stock picture, posed by model.

Here is Jude's original letter from 2015:

How 2 cents pushed this single mother to the brink of despair MY 2 cents...

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?

I digress.

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.

More in this section

Sponsored Content