Why Ousting This Conservative Government Is A Matter Of Life Or Death for Millions in The U.K. By Lisa Mulholland

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I edit and publish blogs for the Avenger but I lacked the headspace I needed to write. Editing is one thing but to actually formulate something and put it out into an article yourself takes a lot. And I just haven’t been able to sift through the overwhelming political material that has been hitting us left right and centre

Because anger without being mentally or physically able to take action for me is just wasted energy and it leads to frustration. I didn’t have the capacity for that.

However some things cannot be ignored.

Some things rip you out of your hiatus and put fire in your belly. And I can’t switch off any longer and really neither should any of us. That fire needs to go somewhere. For many in poverty this is now a matter of life or death.

So here I am. Writing. Putting my energy somewhere.

What pulled me out of it? Well that’s an interesting question because let’s face it we have a whole treasure chest of things to choose from: Brexit, The Government in contempt of Parliament, Brexit again, Theresa May facing a vote of no confidence, the absolute mess of negotiations and oh wait…

The. United Nations Report on Extreme Poverty. Here. In the UNITED KINGDOM!!!

Yes. The U.K. ‘Great’ Britain. Blighty.

Our wonderful little island… has been investigated for its ‘cruel’ austerity policies. The UN has gone so far as to call it “social engineering”.

Up until now, I knew we had a poverty problem caused by austerity. I’ve seen the statistics. I know that 1 in 4 children in the U.K. now live in poverty. I’ve seen the figures for foodbank usage. I also know that there are 130,000 homeless children in the U.K. and there are so many more depressing figures to report on. Each statistic is worthy of its own dedicated blog. The Trussell Trust and Shelter are awash with depressing facts and figures.

I’ve seen commons debates over the universal credit roll out. I’ve seen Corbyn trying desperately to halt that rollout. He’s managed to delay it quite a bit but the inevitable has happened and we are now almost peak rollout.

So with baited breath I forced myself to read the report. I delayed it slightly because I knew that once I read it there would be no going back for me and that I wouldn’t be able to shut off from it any longer. My ‘red pill/ blue pill Matrix’ moment has arrived.

The special rapporteur of extreme poverty and human rights Professor Philip Alston, conducted an investigation spanning a few months.

He traveled the length and breadth of the U.K. interviewing, those in poverty, from a wide range of backgrounds. He went on a fact finding mission, along with in depth analysis of our benefit system and austerity measures, interviews with ministers, local councils and charities to name but a few.

He did not hold back on what he had to say. The report was scathing and harshly worded and rightly so. I have summarised his report statement below:

• U.K. is the fifth largest economy with a system of government that is the envy of many countries.

• So it is therefore unjust and contrary to British values that so many are in poverty.

• He highlights the growth in homelessness, including rough sleepers and foodbank usage. It’s exponential rise has been since 2010, when austerity measures were introduced by the Conservative government.

• Local councils have been “gutted” with library closures in record numbers, which compounds the breakdown of community

• 14 million people in the U.K. are now in poverty.

• 4 million of those in poverty live 50% below the poverty line.

• 1.5 million of those are destitute. Meaning they can not afford basics such as food, or shelter.

• An estimated 40% of children live in poverty although the official amount is 1 in 4.

• He calls it “social calamity” and an “economic disaster”.

• He calls the government a “lone stubborn actor” in this mess. Councils, charities and other organisations have tried to step in.

• He says the government are in a “determinedly state of denial”.

• He uses words like “callous” and “social engineering” to describe our government.

The full statement and official summary of his report is here https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E

These are strong words. This is a damning report. He makes no bones when he says that “austerity inflicted on people” is “unnecessary because it hasn’t saved any money but it has cost a significant amount to implement these policies”.

He admits that the government are overturning the Beveridge report, which is what preceded the implementation of the welfare state.

But he did commend the work of charities and local councils who try to do their best and be creative under terrible circumstances, as well as local communities.

Worryingly though, he said that, overall the British nature of being “compassionate towards those who are suffering is now being replaced with a mean spirited approach to those less fortunate than themselves.”

A sorry state of affairs.

Not only are people in this country being subjected to the cruelty of Universal Credit, which he states is the “ultimate embodiment of the promotion of austerity and the dismantling of the welfare state”. But the very nature of us as a nation, once known for our compassionate nature, is being worn down by a callous government.

So what is next for us a nation?

Well Professor Alston predicts that if things carry on the way they are that the economic uncertainty around Brexit and the continual fall of the pound, coupled with the continuation of the Universal Credit rollout will lead to a 7% increase in child poverty by 2022. That’s on top of the staggering figures we’ve seen in the present day.

He does say that as a nation these problems and the extreme poverty could “easily be reversed” if the government follows a set of recommendations that he makes. They are pretty clear and prescriptive.

Will this conservative government implement his changes?

Did the British media react with the outrage that this report deserves?

The simple answer is no.

While lots of media outlets touched on this report, many did not give it the attention it deserves.

Whether or not that is because they are preoccupied with Brexit and the Conservative party currently imploding, remains to be seen.

My personal view is a lot more cynical than that.

When this report was presented to Amber Rudd, the DWP Secretary she reacted with complete denial, and disgust.

Not towards the figures.

Not towards the plight of millions of people that she is supposed to represent.

Not towards the fact that money was available to the treasury to avoid and stop this problem.

No; she was disgusted that this report was even written!!!

So even with the vote of no confidence tonight… even with the government being held in contempt of parliament, and the complete pantomime that has occurred in this last week in the House Of Commons… all since this report was published, even with all that the conservatives still haven’t learned.

There is no ounce of shame. No ounce of humility. No sign of remorse .

Even if Theresa May loses this vote tonight; she will be replaced by someone in her party who will not give any regard to the abject poverty and suffering of so many people in this nation.

People have died, with no food in their stomachs. People would starve if it were not for British people donating food. Children are entering foodbanks and vomiting when they finally have the chance to eat.

So, for many, unless this conservative Government is ousted, it will be a matter of life or death.

We now have it in writing from a completely independent well respected source. One that is not politically motivated.

These words are not from the opposition. But from a well respected United Nations Professor, who is politically neutral. And Australian. He has no political points to score. He said “Austerity and the rise of poverty since 2010 is a political choice” made by the government. The Conservatives. Fact.

Owen Jones said “when the next Election comes it will be the fight of our lives” and he is absolutely right.

So when that time comes we absolutely have to do everything in our power to fight against this. Because it could be our friends, our family, our neighbour. And one day it could be you.

Sources

The Trussell Trust

Shelter

United Nations Special Report on Poverty in the U.K.

No, Shaun Bailey, We Don’t Want a Re-run of John Major’s ‘Back To Basics’ Campaign By Kelly Grehan

I’ve never been a single mother, I wasn’t raised by one and all being well, with my children now aged 9 and 12 I won’t ever be one.  So Tory London Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey’s comments on single mothers have no real reason to impact on me, except that they do irritate me.  

I am tired of this judgemental attitude to family life.

 In a research paper published in 2005, Shaun Bailey said a two-parent household – “should be the norm”, as opposed to single mothers, and that good-looking girls tend to “have been around”.  

It reminds me very much of the ‘Back to Basics’ rhetoric popularised by the Major Government of the 1990s.  During 1993, Britain was going through what has been characterised as a mora panic on the issue of single mothers. Government ministers regularly made speeches on the issue, such as John Redwood’s condemnation of “young women [who] have babies with no apparent intention of even trying marriage or a stable relationship with the father of the child” from July 1993, and Peter Lilley’s characterisation of single mothers as “benefit-driven” and “undeserving” from the same year. 

 The Back to Basics campaign is probably now better remembered now for the humiliation it bought on the tory party as soon afterwards various ministers (too many to mention here) had to resign after various sex scandals, including some, such as Tim Yeo fathering children through affairs, and John Major later being found to have had an affair with Edwina Currie during the same period.  

However, for people growing up in the 1990s such as myself, this discourse formed the backdrop of our youth.  

Newspaper stories on single parents were always accompanied by a teen pushing a double buggy. Even as a teenager, it struck me as being unfair and caused me to wonder why the demonisation of absent fathers was missing from the attacks. 

Now, having raised my two children through synchronised diaries and teamwork with my husband I cannot say how much I admire my friends who are single parents.  

I imagine knowing there is no one to pick you up if you fall is very lonely, not having anyone to share the joy and worry with must be very isolating.  But they persist.

What I really hate is this constant pitting of one type of family as better than another – the idea we should judge other people by their circumstances.  

 Where does it get us?  

Our culture seems to be transforming into one where we find someone different to us and look down on them.  But then, I suppose this is no different to our Victorian past, where being illegitimate caused a stigma a person could never escape from.  

I believe this stigmatisation is not something we should accept today.  

It certainly does not serve to prevent or solve the poverty many single parents find themselves in, or help them solve the childcare problems that make work so hard for so many.  

There are 2 million single parents in the UK, less than 2% of which are teenagers and 67% of whom are in work, yet 47% are in poverty.  

Imagine that; working hard, managing school pick up times, dealing with all the adventures and difficulties parenting throw at you and still not being able to make ends meet, living with the fear of not knowing what will happen if you don’t deal with every problem life gives you.  

Rather than condemnation I suggest the tories look at why so many children of working parents can possibly be growing up in poverty and get on with doing something about it!

 

 

 

 

Poverty: Home is Where the Start Is By Kelly Grehan

Home, the place you should feel the most comfortable and the most secure has become the very thing which enslaves many Brits to poverty.

Around 14 million people in the UK live in poverty in the UK (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) which is over one in five of the population.

At least 8 million of them live in families where at least one person is in work.  

How has it happened that a continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty?  

Whilst the reasons are multiple and doubtless include the rise in zeros hours contracts, state support for low-income families through benefits and tax credits falling in real terms and stagnant wages, housing must now be seen in terms of the devastating impact it has on so many. 

 The chances of owning your own home have halved in the last 20 years.  For those on middle income jobs, which once guaranteed a good standard of living the chances of owning a house is now diminished.  

Just 27% of 25 to 35 year olds in this bracket now on the property ladder, which is unsurprising when you consider that over the past 20 years, average house prices have grown about seven times faster than the average incomes of young adults (according to the IFS). Yet average house prices have increased by 152% whereas wages for 25- to 34-year-olds have only risen by 22% in real terms over the same period.

 

This means that many people who would have been home owners in the generation before theirs are now at the mercy of the private rented sector.

Their income should have meant they could comfortably afford the mortgage on an average property in an average area, but instead rising rents and the costs of deposits and upfront rents leave many struggling to manage.  

Unsurprisingly if those on good incomes struggle to afford the roof over their head then for those on low incomes the situation is even worse.  

47% of working-age adults on low incomes spend more than a third of their income (including Housing Benefit) on housing costs.

More than a third of working-age adults receiving Housing Benefit now have to top it up out of their other income to cover their rent.  

Let us not forget that many people on low incomes do important jobs like health care assistants and teaching assistants. 

Right to Buy has left pressure on the UK’s limited and often antiquated housing stock which simply means the social housing system can not operate in any way which works.  

Pressure on local authority housing lists means many desperate families  are stuck in temporary accommodation which radically undermines family life.  It also means many people with specific needs such as mobility and disability issues are in properties completely unsuitable for them which further impacts their health and ability to access services – for example there are people whose inability to get a wheelchair through their doorways effectively leaves them trapped in one room – isolated from any groups or activities outside the property.

As public housing stocks has fallen public housing has become almost synonymous for some with problem families; stigmatising children and adults alike and playing into a dangerous ‘us-and-them’ mentality.  

At the same time lack of access to the limited housing stock leads to raised tensions in communities as people instinctively resent those fortunate enough to be allocated a property.  

None of this is good for communities.

As demand outstrips supply; landlords are able to be less and less responsible, and as the costs of moving are always with the tenant, people are increasingly afraid to complain about the poor standards or their home.  

From the taxpayers point of view, this causes further costs as poor quality housing damages health, through for example more accidents and asthma being caused by exposure to damp environments. Furthermore; people with mental health conditions are one and a half times more likely to live in rented housing than the general population.

 Children who have lived in temporary accommodation for over a year are three times as likely to have a mental health condition than other children, including depression and anxiety.  

This might be because they lack space to do homework or have friends over.

10% of mothers who lived in acutely bad housing were clinically depressed, further impacting on family life. 

Rough sleeping had almost been eradicated by the Labour government of 1997-2010. However since the election of 2010 there has been a catastrophic rise of 169% in the number of rough sleepers with an estimated 4,751 people sleeping outside overnight in 2017.

 

While rough sleepers are the ultimate victims of the UKs crazy housing systems, other types of homelessness have also risen: homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless.  

Every person in this situation is suffering unimaginable amounts of stress.

Even the houses we are buying are not seeing occupants have a better standard of living than their previous generations.

New homes are now 20% smaller than those built in the 1970s, whilst this means raised bigger profits for developers, as kitchens and living rooms get smaller family life is inevitably negatively impacted.

 In short every single part of our housing system is dysfunctional and a failure to fix it means more and more people are dragged into a poorer standard of living which, in short means there is more misery and more suffering.

 How long are we going to let this madness continue?  

 

The Long Summer Holiday And How We Fail Our Children By Kelly Grehan

The long summer holidays. The time children look forward to all year, the chance for family time, holidays, adventure, time with friends, visiting new places…

That’s the expectation anyway.

Sadly, the summer holidays are becoming a time of dread for many families as increasing numbers of people struggle to feed and find affordable childcare for their children.

As schools try their best to ensure income differences are not felt by school children throughout the year (with mixed successes) the holidays has become the great differentiator between children according to the wealth and circumstances of their parents.

As some families fly abroad for new experiences and relaxation, for others survival mode kicks in, with the six weeks something to endure rather than enjoy.

With free school meals guaranteeing that all infant school children and those deemed economically impoverished receive at least five cooked meals a week; the holidays sees the removal of the safety net for up to 3 million children.

This problem is recognised.

In fact an all-party parliamentary group on hunger found there was a “deeply troubling” impact on children who had gone hungry over the holidays and returned to class “malnourished, sluggish and dreary”. They received evidence that affected children “start the new term several weeks, if not months, intellectually behind their more fortunate peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity”.

This is further backed up by a 2016 survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers where teachers also reported a deterioration in the mental health of those children concerned.

The union blamed low wages and changes to benefits for the ‘unprecedented hunger’ they had witnessed in children.

Further evidence comes from a 2015 study based on a 580 low- and middle-income parents, which found that 62% of parents on less than £25,000 a year can not always afford food in holidays!

For parents with incomes of less than £15,000 the figure rises to 73%, while 41% of parents in low-income families had skipped meals during holidays so that their children could eat.

Very sadly 22% of parents said they had avoided having their children’s friends over and 17% hadn’t invited family to their house during the holidays due to a lack of money and food.

So this means the children are further disadvantaged in missing out on company and stimulation.

The problems do not cease with nutrition.

With increasing numbers of working parents living without nearby family support and without the means to afford childcare while they work, many are faced with a dilemma about where children should spend the day.

The NSPCC last week revealed an increased number of children left alone all day during the summer holidays.

The charity warns that although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if they are put at risk of suffering an injury.

Imagine the predicament for a person, maybe struggling with the rent, to put food on the table and knowing that their job does not pay enough to cover these and childcare; or maybe receiving a call from a zero hours employer and having no options of where the children could spend the day.

Leaving a child alone may seem a risk which must be taken.

A child left alone, or in charge of younger siblings, possibly for days in the holidays is missing out on structure and security.

Even for those parents on average incomes the holidays are now a struggle.

The cost of activities once enjoyed for a reasonable rate such as the cinema have now become extortionate, rising expedentially to that of wages.

Holidays in the UK and abroad in school holidays can now be double of those in term time.

Libraries and Sure Start Centres which traditionally supplied free entertainment and activities are closing or withdrawing services.

The old first day back to school tradition of writing what you got up to in the holidays must be a dreaded and distressing experience for some children with it further emphasising their exclusion from parts of life enjoyed by their more fortunate classmates.

What strikes me if that, once again, is that there are a group of children – a significantly large group of children – who are being failed.

They are spending significant periods of their formative years hungry, alone, under stress – all things that are likely to impact negatively on their mental health, their school attainment and their self image.

Despite the rhetoric of this government this is not a poor country and we can do better by our children than this.

Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

Mental Health And Me By Lucy Robinson

At 17 I moved out of home. Within a year, my Dad & Step Mum who I previously lived with emigrated to Canada. My Mum lived in Wales. I was alone in London, with the world at my feet. I was ready.

…Or so I thought.

I bought a flat at 18, working in building maintenance. At 21 I fell pregnant; not ideal, unemployment and repossession ensued with me ending up – after lengthy process – in a Housing Association flat.

I refused to become a statistic of another single Mum on benefits.

Then in 1997 Labour got in to government – there was hope!

At this point I decided my career had to work for me. I went from working on a help desk in 1999 to managing engineers, to managing contracts. I did day release university and got qualified.

I started to manage bigger contracts, better contracts, profit margins increasing.

I was bold, brave and very good at my job.

In 10 years I went from part-time admin earning £10k to Projects Director in a multi-million pound engineering company, commanding a salary of £80k a year, managing literally hundreds of people.

I was now married with 3 children aged 13, 4 & 3. My stress levels were through the roof: I was being bullied at work (which most who knew couldn’t fathom) and my soul mate was dying of cancer.

It was a rollercoaster.

My soul mate died, work paid me off in a compromise agreement and then, just as I couldn’t get lower, my husband left.

It’s OK. I’m the breadwinner, I have child care, a cleaner, money… I can do this… NO.

No you can’t, not without a support network, which I didn’t have, I had opted for a career.

I was about to learn the hardest lesson.

I CAN’T DO IT ALL!

I lost 4 stone in as many weeks and never slept, apparently.

I have no recollection of 2011/12.

I still went to work every day, my kids were fed and clothed and attended school – in no small part thanks to my long-suffering teenager.

No one knew.

I saw not a cloud move, not a raindrop fall, didn’t taste or feel anything at all in this time.

I didn’t hear my children laugh or cry and from what I understand behind closed doors I was a vile ball of negativity and bitterness. I’ve no idea how my three beautiful babies coped while all I knew was blackness.

I sold my house, my beloved BMW convertible and got divorced. I started to regain what was missing and came to discover I was moving home.

I moved to Kent, I can’t quite tell you why; I do know rent was cheaper and I was born there which I assume took me back.

The moment I moved I could start to feel the ground under my feet (literally).

I saw I had an old ford Mondeo, my teenager was occupied as much as possible and we should all understand why, I saw my younger children cower from me and I was in so much physical pain it was hard to think.

I couldn’t fathom it… what was happening?

My hands didn’t work properly, I was physically sick most days and getting my children to school was a task. I had to have 4 operations: one on each wrist, one on my bladder and one on my throat. I had also gained a hiatus hernia and degenerative disc disease in my spine, not to mention the complex neurological disorder (nerve problems)…

But I’m bold and brave and very good at my job, I’m respected and established how could this happen?

My Doctor was incredible. I arrived gripping onto his desk, shaking, crying, scared and justifying that I was an intelligent, capable human being but I just needed help.

Please help me.

He did.

I went on antidepressants and got to know my children again. Did I mention autism? Yes we are an autism friendly family; not helpful if your Mum is having serious mental health issues.

I tried to go back to work, similar level but local on £60k. I couldn’t hack the pace, people were getting the better of me.

Tried again, still local but less responsibility on £40k.

I can’t EVEN do that.

It’s now 2015 I’ve moved twice and I am just going to have to finally admit I have mental health issues.

My spine is deteriorating, my children are not getting to school on time, my landlord might find out I’m not working and the school might find out I’m not coping.

Depression, anxiety, zero self-esteem and no support network… I’ve got to do this.

The school get involved, leading to a family conference with my family (now in Wales), my ex-husband’s family and my MENTAL HEALTH social worker, with me begging for help.

How does a bold brave person end up crawling so low. I’ll tell you…

By not taking care of the one organ which is bigger than you… your brain!

My landlord did find out I wasn’t working. I was still paying my £1145 a month rent in full but no, he wanted me out.

November 2015; 5 days before my youngest’s 9th birthday my three children and I were evicted, literally on the street. No temporary accommodation available locally, one North London and one in Harlow.

I emptied my home into a van and a garage I had rented. I find different places for all of us to stay.

Only two nights but two scary, lonely long nights.

I get a call. Erith. That’s somewhere I’ve heard of.

Another move but this time it means I’m in the system that offers help. A year later my family are offered a twee little 3 bed council house in the cutest of roads, garden, a downstairs bathroom to accommodate my disability.

I honestly couldn’t have been more grateful and slowly we start to heal.

So here I am in 2018, nearly another decade on from earning £80k with my BMW and two decades from refusing to be a single mum on benefits…

I AM a single Mum, on benefits with a disability to boot.

Would I have been better off with no career?

No, I loved almost every second of it.

Would I have stayed married?

No, I needed support.

Will I actively encourage people to look after their mental health?

EVERY SINGLE DAY!

I’m lucky. I am 43, once again with the world at my feet… it’s a blank canvas… now what is it I want to do?

By Lucy Robinson

The Devastating Plight Of Kent Families Hit By Austerity By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

This past week has highlighted how the people of Kent are suffering from further cuts to services.

On Monday it was announced that Kent County Council had decided to press ahead with the £400,000 cuts to breastfeeding support services.

This was despite a staggering 1,294 responses to the consultation (the average last year was 156 per consultation) and an evidence based campaign from ‘Keep Kent Breastfeeding’.

Data from Unicef indicates that 81% of mothers wish to breastfeed their babies at birth, but only 17% babies are still exclusively breastfed at 3 months.

The health benefits of breastmilk are well known.  We are particularly concerned over the impact on the emotional health of mums who want to breastfeed and are not supported to do so, and as such experience a sense of failure, this is at a time when postnatal depression is on the rise.

A 2015 study by Netmums indicated that one quarter of all new mums experience loneliness.

NCT research shows that good breastfeeding support has practical and psychological benefits for mothers; impacting on the wellbeing of their babies.

Breastfeeding support workers had the luxury of having time to spend with mums. I think we all recognise that, with the best will in the world, Health Visitors who will be expected to take on the task and void left as a result of these plans will not have the time to spend with women.

It seems KCC did not comprehend the value of breast peer support workers and thought only of the initial costs.

Maybe, having awarded themselves a 12% pay rise last year maybe it is inevitable KCC Councillors would need to make cuts.

The cuts to breastfeeding support were not the only indication that family needs are not the priority of KCC this week.

Last Friday The Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed Kent have only 3.75 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children.

The lowest number in the country.

In London, the tally is around 17.  With a national average of around 8, it is evident that Kent is leap years behind the UK.

And that is no mean feat when you consider many councils and people across the UK as a whole are suffering immensely from austerity.

The toll it takes on parents and families is immeasurable.

I ( Lisa) have written about my personal battle with child mental health services as a Kent parent and was asked to appear on the BBC local news to talk about the effect it has had on me and many other families throughout Kent. You can read my article here https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/18/my-open-letter-to-the-pm-about-how-austerity-affected-my-childs-mental-health/

It is a sad fact that life is not easy for many Kent children.

The End Child Poverty Coalition estimate more than 93,000 children in Kent are living in poverty.

Shelter estimate 2000 children in Kent are homeless.

An investigation it carried among people living in emergency B&Bs and hostels found every family living in a single room, with 25% having no access to a kitchen and 50% having to share toilet and bathroom facilities.

Imagine growing up in those conditions!! And it begs the question, where is the help for these families?

The suffering and endless misery does not stop there.

Since 2015 the average Tory cut in funding to each primary school has been £54,000, and to each secondary school it has been £205,000.

Teachers and parents are having to fund vital equipment. And now they’ve denied 1m children a free hot school meal. Unless the DUP own you of course; children Northern Ireland is exempt from these cuts

It seems that no service is safe.

Maybe it is unfair to place the blame squarely on KCC.  Tory austerity has hit them hard.

For example:

● The council is expected to make around £75m of savings next year, out of a £900m budget.

● In the past five years the council’s grant from central government has been cut by £185.4m.

● The council says it has made savings to the tune of £417m in the same period, because of the drop in funding and increased demand in services

But yet this remains the sixth richest country in the world!

Yet at every turn our children are failed time and time again. Budgets are cut to shreds and it seems to be children who are on the receiving end. What a sad state of affairs this is.

We will be taking a closer look over the coming week of how austerity has affected services across Kent.

Without awareness we cannot seek to change what is happening.