Thursday, 21 October 2010

Open Letter to Jo Swinson

After discussion on twitter with our local MP, Jo Swinson, an exasperated Yorkshire mum, Lisa Ansell, has sent a letter to her via our blog.

Dear Ms.Swinson,

We were having a conversation on twitter about the treatment of single parents by the Coalition government- and the only answer you had to my questions was that ''fathers should pay child support''.

As a single parent with one child I am now very worried. I have gone through every possibility, and your government have removed the ability to have work meet my basic living costs, unless I am earning way over the national average.

I don't know whether you are aware of what children are. They are people. Once they are born, you are responsible for them 24 hours per day. The hours you spend away from them have to be paid for, and in order to work you need arrange care for them. The average cost of this care where I live, is £110 per week. In Scotland it is nearer to £170 per week.

These are the outgoings I would have as a full time social - they are modest. I will not include food-as you really don’t need to know my eating habits.

Rent £500 per month
Childcare £5-600 per month
Electricity - £50
Gas £60
Council Tax - £80
Water Rates - £ 15
Internet £15
Travel to work £100
Student loan £80

£1500 per month.

Under the Labour government, my income including tax credits, housing benefit and a salary as a 30 hour a week qualified social worker- was £1600 per month. This was after I opted out of my pension.

As you can see this were not easy numbers. £100 per month for food, clothes for an adult and a child, and any other expenses, repairs that arose through day to day life.

Now, I wasn't complaining. Life is tough. At least with the state help I was grateful for, I could work. If you examine your housing benefit figures- you will find that single parents are over represented in housing benefit claims. They continue to work for quite a long time, even though there is little material gain. Working for its own sake is the reason most single parents with young children work, there is little financial gain to be made. If you do not do this, you become quite unattractive to employers. Gaps in employment, out of date skills- mean you earn much less when you do work.

Childcare is an expense that lone parents have to pay out in order to work. I bring this to your attention as it is a fact which is missing from Centre for Social Justice research, your social policy is based on.

Low salaries are generally expected by lone parents, because they have to balance work with responsibility for a child who exists 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. This is clearly evidenced pretty much everywhere.... There is a concentration of mothers in the bottom two tiers of the public sector- mainly because it is low paid but usually manageable around caring responsibilities.

When your government came in- you capped housing benefit to a third of the local average rents. This one move in itself removed the link between working and being able to pay basic living costs for many women. Ironic that the thing which allows women to work, was described by your government as a 'benefit trap'.

Yesterdays spending review placed further caps on council tax benefit, you have reduced the amount payable for childcare through tax credits, you are raising rail fares and bus fares, and increasing VAT. On my income level, as a social worker, I would be unable to continue to work.

In order to live on that salary, I had to spend a great deal of time on the phone to utility providers, given I couldn't afford to pay all of them EVERY month AND feed myself and my daughter. Living at a constant deficit is a very time consuming exercise. It is quite stressful, and takes a great deal of being nice to people, begging people, and generally playing a plate spinning game with your basic living costs. There is a great deal of research which shows that mothers act as ‘shock absorbers’ of poverty- I might suggest starting your reading with the evidence collected by your own government departments. If you can’t find any of the vast amount of evidence of this- I suggest going to an organization like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or any of our Universities. There is no absence of evidence of this.


The link that was created between working and being able to pay my bills has now been completely broken. I now have no way of working and feeding my child. So has the link between being able to survive when you can’t work, or find work.

In order to earn enough money to have £100 per week disposable income to spend on food, clothes, or the repairs of the things that have broken and stayed broken- I would have to earn £22800 net per annum.

By which time my tax credits would be stopped because I earned more than £25k gross, and I would be sunk way back under that income level.

If I managed to get to the holy grail of £44k a year, I would be considered one of the richest women in the country and have my child benefit withdrawn.

If unemployed, my income would be £127 per week. Housing benefit which would only ever have covered £400 of my £500 rent, was reduced substantially in the June Budget- when the level at which it was calculated dropped to the bottom third of market rents. I would have already had to find this £100 per month out of that level of income- that has now increased by another £60.

If am unemployed for more than 12 months, and my daughter turns 5, I will be turned onto Jobseekers allowance- and if I have not found employment after 12 months, housing benefit would be further reduced by 10%.

Social Housing rents are to be brought up to market rents, so there is no chance that I would be able to get a council house with a more affordable rent.

I do have options.


a) get a job which pays far above the national average. In order to do that, I would have to move to an area where rents were much much higher. The town I live in is about to experience a massive spike in unemployment as we are heavily dependent on the public sector. I would have to retrain, presumably to graduate level- but I lucked out and used my first degree to become a social worker so more education is not an option open to me.
b) get married. Absence of available candidates is a bit of an issue there. Am 32, with a child, and quite frankly my experience of marriage is not overly positive. I had never considered I would have to fuck my way out of poverty.
c) have more children. Increase the level of state support I can receive.
d) (Which is my current preferred option) Set up a company which can employ me, and many others in family friendly work. This is the option I have taken, but as banks are not lending, my credit rating has been severely impacted by two years of living at a deficit- chances of success are not high- although I am meeting possible investors next week.

If this fails I am back to a)-c).

From your tweet I understand that government policy is that I should be getting support from an ex partner.

I appreciate that my ex should support his child. Like many men he, he is a good father. Out of a social worker's salary, he keeps a house fit for his daughter, is fully involved in her care- and buys her clothes. He doesn't have the capability to financially support me, even if he wanted to.

He is also facing unemployment as a result of the cuts your government is making to Childrens Services. Massive cuts.

I have always considered myself lucky that my ex is a good dad. Many of my friends have had to take restraining orders out to deal with theirs, or have been completely abandoned. I think it would be fair to call them deadbeat, and imply they have not met their responsibilities- I am concerned about the effect on my ex of finding out that he is also considered a deadbeat dad. I am concerned that their financial survival is dependent on the men they had the courage to leave. Some of them, very dangerous.

I appreciate this is a rambling letter- but I have a few specific questions for you:
Which social policy research suggests that women benefit from having their financial survival be solely dependent on a man, regardless of circumstances? Have you consulted with Domestic Violence charities about the implications of this?
What economic benefit is there to deliberately removing the ability of lone parents to remain in the labour market? Are these benefits long term, or short term? Are they benefits for the economy? Social benefits?
As the rhetoric used to justify these policies is about ‘scroungers’ and ‘deadbeat’ dads- could you qualify what a scrounger actually is? How long does a woman have to work for nothing to escape being described as such?

Have you read any research about the effects of poverty- what are the social benefits of ensuring that a woman has no way of supporting herself and her child by working?

What effect does ensuring that a woman has no ability to work to support her family have on gender equality?
One additional piece of social policy brought in- is the ‘fairness’ premium. Apparently because my daughter is only likely to hear 600 words a day, the state needs to ensure she has access to someone who will raise her aspirations- and in order for that to happen she needs to go to childcare outside the home.
Can I ask why you are deliberately placing so many women into abject poverty, and then introducing ‘fairness’ measures on the premise that they are inadequate parents? (’Children from poor homes hear 616 words spoken an hour, on average, compared to 2,153 words an hour in richer homes. By the age of three, that amounts to a cumulative gap of 30 million words.’’- Nick Clegg- 15th October 2010).

I would appreciate answers to these questions. I hope you don’t mind it being an open letter on a website in your constituency. I assumed that some of your constituents were women. Mothers- and that some of them might are single. They might want answers too.

Kind Regards

Lisa Ansell

1 comment:

Hellsbells said...

What an absolutely fantastic letter. I wonder if Ms Ansell will get any answers. it would be nice but I suspect there will be none.