“Growing up, we lived in a flat in Bethnal Green that had no central heating. There were times we sat in the dark as there was no electricity.
“It was a struggle. My mum had mental health issues that went undiagnosed and was left traumatised by domestic violence. There were no birthday parties, there were no friends around to play, our home never looked like my friends’ homes. I left at 18, lived in a homeless hostel for a while and then got my first flat. I had nothing, just the clothes I had. I had no one to turn to for help, I had no clue how to pay bills. When I had no money to top up the electricity, I would sit covered in blankets reading by candlelight. I had left school with no qualifications and suffered from depression as I had been through some really traumatic situations. I regularly went for days without eating.
“But it was always in me to keep fighting, changing, taking risks and seeing the opportunities. I wanted to come off benefits and work. I wanted to stand on my own two feet and be part of society. And I think that’s something benefits do. It’s almost like if you’re on benefits, you’re not part of society.
“I needed to change my situation, so I started working for the NHS. I was so proud of myself. It felt like such a weight off me. I just wanted to work my way up and build a career for myself. I worked hard and life felt better. I had a purpose.
“Then in 2012 I fell pregnant and I was so happy. I was ready to be a mum. In 2016, my financial situation changed dramatically when I moved from working full time all year round to part time in education during term time so I could look after my daughter. I checked benefit calculators to make sure I was making the right move but I was not prepared for what happened. My tax credits were stopped, I was told I had had my year’s entitlement and hit with a £5,000 bill for overpayment. I was plunged into a financial nightmare, not knowing how I was going to pay my bills, feed myself and my daughter, buy the things we needed like clothes and shoes.
“It turned out to be a mistake on the government’s part. At that time, I was referred to a food bank and I remember sitting in the waiting room with my daughter, waiting to be given a food parcel. I was holding back tears, not wanting my daughter to see me upset, and thinking how has it got to this? Walking home that night I felt like an absolute failure. I was scared.
“Poverty does not discriminate; it can single you out through no fault of your own, whether through relationship breakdowns, death, loss of employment, change of employment, mental health. I want to portray to people that just because you’re in that situation, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in it.
“I was determined to get us out of it, and I did. Now, I work part-time from home and work with charities as a lived experience expert. I’m also starting university in September to do a degree in Psychosocial Community Work, and I’m proud to be a single mum to my 8-year-old daughter.
“We need to get rid of food banks. We need a real living wage and benefits that reflect today’s cost of living. We need more social housing and not at the private rate unaffordable rents that are pushing people out of areas. There are these parallel worlds. London’s fantastic but right under our noses, there’s a whole other world going on.
“This is the thing about communities- it’s about bringing people together and talking and understanding why. Why is this your world and why is this my world? And how can we help one another? How can we change things? It’s communities that can influence change.”
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