A public sector worker
20 October 2012 TUC demo against austerity, photo Paul Mattsson

20 October 2012 TUC demo against austerity, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

An ambulance worker fighting the proposed closure of his ambulance station told me recently: “I want to live, not just exist.” As a single mother, struggling to even ‘exist’, I understand this sentiment.

I have two part-time jobs at my local school, on a ‘pro-rata’ basis. Support staff only get paid when the school is open.

One of my jobs officially pays just above the minimum wage, but I have to budget for 52 weeks but only get paid for 39 so I’m really earning below minimum wage.

Two jobs are not enough to cover my monthly rent and bills, especially in the winter with gas and electricity prices permanently rising.

The small housing benefit I get is cut when my wages go up slightly in months when I work more hours.

Tax credit pays the rest of my bills, travel and clothing with no money for anything else.

My wages haven’t kept up with inflation, so I rely on my credit card to buy food. When I reach my credit limit I must choose between eating or feeding my family – no choice – so sometimes I go hungry.

With interest payments and monthly bills increasing I exist in a permanent circle of debt with no escape, unlike bankers who still make profits and get enormous bonuses.

I would like a full-time job. But businesses are closing, public sector jobs are being cut and full-time jobs replaced by part-time ones. There are few jobs and many people are competing for them.

Bus fares to get to jobs further afield are prohibitive, services have been cut and I can’t afford a car.

I have good qualifications but these are out of date. There is no help with the cost of retraining. When I was offered a course to update my teaching skills, I could not pay for the fees or travel for this.

I cannot get a council house because there is no government programme for building new ones and the few left are in great demand by people in circumstances worse than mine.

So we live in privately rented accommodation, paying huge rent to a landlord who goes on several exotic holidays a year and lives in a luxury house. I can’t afford to go out and seldom have a holiday.

We hear a lot about “scroungers” in the media but I know from my experience of being unemployed how much effort it takes to squeeze any money out of the state, and how demoralising the whole process of claiming out-of-work benefit can be, especially if you’re unemployed a long time.

I often think about a life without the constant struggle to eat, keep the house warm, be dressed appropriately, have some sort of social life, all without the worry about what the future holds.

I know I’m better off than many people in this country and with the government intent on destroying working class people’s lives with its cuts, things will get much worse.

I am fighting for the basics now and for a future socialist society where millionaires don’t control us and we can all make the most of our lives without just trying to ‘exist’.

A quarter of a million hungry people will have used emergency food banks by the end of this year. That is four times as many as two years ago. Shockingly, many of them are working