At 6:30am in the morning I am not the most stable of personalities, my fringe normally doing its best Don King impression as I sip tea with the cold, dead eyes of a serial killer while I overanalyse my dreams, the most recent one being about giant flying squirrels the size of otters, leaping from the trees and devouring what appeared to be a ruling dynasty in a strange backward, medieval world.
Yesterday morning was no different and as I was going about this normal routine and grimacing my way through social media, my eye caught the story of a harrowing phone call received by a charity worker in Dorset. Originally posted on Dorset Eye, the worker from Humanity Torbay told how they had got a call from a nine year old girl asking how she could get work. The child’s mother had died and her father was raising her and her two siblings alone. After her father was made redundant the girl was worried about how they’d make ends meet and wanted to ensure that at least her younger siblings would have a nice Christmas. Pretty soon I was doing my worst ugly cry into the empty shell of a boiled egg, both heartbroken and enraged for what was happening to this kid while also remembering my own childhood.
For we should never underestimate the love and tenacity of little girls. We forget sometimes, how much our children worry about money, believing childhood experience for the majority to be a magical carefree time, only becoming aware of how cruel and unfair the world can be once we come of age. Even I’m guilty of this, and I’ve been the child of a brilliant single father and I was very aware of how he struggled to pay the bills all by himself and hated it. He did well for a good few years to keep me blissfully oblivious. But as a family growing up poor in an affluent area, another, wealthier adult once took it upon themselves to inform me of our dire economic status at a very young age. After that I worried regularly about what would happen if we somehow became even poorer and was made to feel embarrassed that we never had a holiday together like all the other kids seemed to. Not because it bothered me particularly, for he always made sure there were fun things for me to do, but because I was so conscious that other people had thoughts about it. I was also that child that wondered how I could make money at a young age so things weren’t quite so hard. Adults on the outside had lots of opinions about our situation but didn’t seem to have any solutions very often. My dad, like so many other single fathers was either treated as a saint- as if it was so unusual that a man would want to take care of his child that it became noble- or with suspicion, society having an ingrained belief that a man does not have the first clue as to how to raise a girl child all by himself. Fathers even now are still often portrayed as aloof or as some sort of overgrown manchild who the matriarch of the family has to patronisingly take care of too, as they can’t be trusted to handle basic domestic tasks efficiently. This all came flooding back when I read the story over breakfast as I have a good idea of some of the things this family are going through.
Because single parents are always cast as the villain in someone’s eyes. They are criticised if they work for neglecting their child, but heaven also forbid that they aren’t in active employment, for how can they just sit laying about like that? It is always presented as a situation they put themselves in rather than acknowledging that sometimes circumstances find you, and the strain our society puts on people plays a large part on this.
My dad did work consistently, long and hard hours, with a crippling stomach condition. It was many years later when I realised just how serious it had been, because he hid it so well. I remember a period of a few weeks where he was barely able to leave his bed, but this sticks in the memory precisely because it seemed so unlike him, who had always been so energetic and active. While we may not have had much, there was always food and a warm house and he always strived to make sure I had access to as much as possible. Because of him I don’t feel I was deprived, but it shouldn’t have had to be that hard all the time for him and it shouldn’t be even harder for parents and children now.
As a professional I still see how difficult this time of year in particular is on our kids and how often they have to grow up far too quickly because of the decisions of other adults. For parents too, the pressure and competitiveness of Christmas increases each coming year. There has to be presents- oh so many presents- to be photographed and posted online. There has to be Christmas Eve pyjamas and festive experiences so you can ping ‘making memories’ on fucking Facebook to prove how good you are to everyone on your friends list or the whole of mumsnet. But if you can’t do these things, you will be made to feel terrible. Sometimes deliberately. One child in our service acutely sticks in my mind as I watched her become overwhelmed with gifts we had provided thanks to members of the public. Naively thinking that she might still believe in Santa and being careful not to say who her gifts were from she then told us she knew there was no thing as Father Christmas as she only usually ever gets one present at this time of year, and that is from her social worker. It had been that way her whole life. It’s not a unique story.
In the case of the phone call highlighted by Humanity Torbay, it is the voice of the child that has made the story spread far and wide both on social and mainstream media. Immediately it has made people ask questions about the state of our welfare system as it was revealed that after being made redundant, the father was left potentially waiting weeks and weeks before his claim for universal credit was processed- a standard reality for thousands in a similar position today in the Age Of Austerity.
Oh but silly me, haven’t you heard? Yes, austerity is over apparently. There was an announcement and everything. You might not have realised on account of people are still killing themselves over no longer being able to meet their or their children’s basic needs. It might not be obvious as all your vital local services to help vulnerable people are still having their resources slashed. Or you might not have realised because that ludicrous statement is yet more political gaslighting from this insane government. As I sat and watched Theresa May gleefully announce that indeed austerity was over at the Conservative party conference, my jaw fell open. Never had I seen such a preposterous misrepresentation of anything since Emilio Estevez tried to convince us he was high on weed in The Breakfast Club and instead of eating every carb within crawling distance, he bounced around a library like Sonic the fucking Hedgehog .
No one even falls for it any more, but we somehow accept that politicians lie to us time and time again, and where anyone in any other profession would be sacked for the levels of deception and incompetency they subject us to, they either go unchallenged or simply resign and get shifted into another well paid job role that they are completely unqualified to do.
Maybe instead if they were faced with a two month wait to get Universal Credit while their anxious child rang strangers asking if she could get some work sweeping floors they would be less flippant in letting us down time and time again. There are lots of schemes around the uk that allow people who are able to donate Christmas presents or essential items. Your local ymca, or domestic violence refuges along with organisations such as cash 4 kids who distribute to those in need in their local area. As someone who has seen the delight of toddlers and relieved cries of exhausted parents as they are delivered, I promise you these little things do make a difference to those that receive them. But while no accountability is put to those who make these decisions, their numbers will only increase. Some giant flying squirrels with an appetite for the ruling classes would be a timely intervention right now.
Here is Daisy Chainsaw with ‘Money’, because fuck every Tory and the capitalists who stole Christmas.