New romance left us with £1.86 a day to live on

Craig & Vicky were let down by a system that needs to change.

Craig and Vicky found something they weren’t expecting at the food bank: love.

They had each been forced there by society’s shortcomings, let down by an economy short of secure jobs and by systems that don’t enable people to stay afloat.

The welfare system should help people stay afloat in difficult times, but instead, it is sweeping families further into poverty due to errors and cuts. Nobody should need to go to bed hungry. It’s just not right.

While waiting in the foyer of the church hall, Vicky and Craig got chatting. That was the beginning of their new relationship, but also a financial nightmare. They told the DWP that they had moved in together, and found themselves suddenly hit by a storm and pulled into deeper poverty.

We met Craig and Vicky at a community food bank and cafe in one of England’s biggest cities. This is their story:

Craig: I’m a bus driver but I lost my job two years ago and have been out of work since then. I signed on to Jobseeker’s Allowance but I became homeless and was in a hostel for two to three weeks and moved back in with my parents for a few weeks, before I got a flat. Jobseeker’s Allowance paid £73.20 a week, and that had to cover the water, gas, electric, food, TV licence and bus fares. My neighbour told me about this place and I came here. Without this place I would go hungry. It’s amazing here and they’re a really nice group of people; they help you out. It was here that I met Vicky and we started a relationship and moved in together.

Vicky: I had been through a divorce and someone at church told me about this place so I came here one time. I was not in a good place then and I stopped coming for a bit before coming back. Everybody is lovely here; everyone gets on with everyone.

Craig: When we moved in together, we told the DWP and did everything we were supposed to, but it has all gone down and has swept us into a really difficult situation.

When we were living separately we each got £73.20 a week. I was on JSA (Jobseeker’s Allowance) and Emma is on ESA (Enmployment Support Allowance). But when we moved in together, they told us we would get a combined payment of £52 a week to cover both of us and two teenage children. We’re paying £50 a month for utilities and £20 a month on council tax, and we have hardly anything left to pay for food or anything else.

Note: £52 a week for two adults and two teenagers equates to £1.86 per person per day

Craig: It turned out they had got that wrong. After two to three weeks, they said we should have been getting £52 a week each, not combined, but it’s still really hard, living off £52 a week each and with all our outgoings – and it’s less than we were getting.

We’re paying water rates and council tax and everything else, and it also turns out they have not been paying the proper amount of child benefit to Vicky, as they thought she had just one child not two. We’ve now been to see the housing office to see about a hardship payment, so we have to wait and see now if we can get that.

We thought when we moved in together, our finances would still be the same but they are not. We’ve been to rock bottom. They said sorry for getting it wrong, but there’s nothing else they could do.

They need to understand people better and find out how much it really costs for people to live. We come here every Friday and get a week’s worth of food but we just want to know when life will get a bit better for us. 

Can’t something go for us for once? We have children and Christmas to worry about; it’s one problem after another. Even £73.20 was very tight. We just managed to make it work and we were coming here but now we’ve been on the reduced payment, it’s harder. Once you’ve sorted out water and council tax and rent and the TV licence, you are left with not enough for food. Without food banks, I do now know what people would do. This isn’t how people are meant to be treated.

The bigger picture

Craig and Vicky’s story is harrowing. Their struggle is continuing, as they try to find out what they are entitled to. Admin errors let them down, but the payments themselves are insufficient. Even before their most recent difficulties, they were struggling to keep their heads above water.

This is not how society should treat its most vulnerable members. Things need to change.

In his recent report, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights noted that “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach.”

He observed  “a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the Government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.”

The welfare system should not leave people hungry, and the End Hunger UK campaign is working to ensure it doesn’t.

A compassionate society is one that provides a bedrock of social security: the security of knowing that becoming sick, disabled or unemployed, or suffering a financial shock or crisis, will not leave anyone penniless, hungry or at risk of destitution. To get involved in the campaign, visit endhungeruk.org

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