I was having a conversation on twitter this evening, which sparked me to write a brutally honest blogpost. The conversation was about government finances and how I get benefits as a single mother.
The tweeter’s retort:
“I pay 63% of my wage in taxes and I get nothing”. First of all I would like to state that the word nothing is quite exagerated. In Belgium we get child benefits for every child we have. Even when you are a high earner. So not like in Great Britain where your child benefits are stopped once you earn over a certain amount. We have very cheap healthcare and access to a GP without even having to phone to make an appointment. We just show up. We get a whole load of tax credits, included being able to deduct your houseloan from your tax return…..so the word “nothing” must be put in perspective.
It is very hard for me, to write this post, cause it is the toughest part of my daily life. Money! Yes, I admit, I am a single mother and I live off benefits. At least, for now….because the tides will turn!
Am I proud to live off benefits? No, I am not. Do I think it is a necessary evil? Yes, I think I do.
Before anyone thinks I am a benefit scrounger, I would like to point out I have been earning a wage from the age of 19. I worked as a pro dancer, a salesperson (hard sales as well), receptionist, shift leader, reception manager and conference and banqueting sales advisor. I even worked as a wedding planner! I worked for the biggest and most beautiful 5* hotels in Europe, working 18 hours a day. And then, at the age of 28, I became a mum. 4 months later, I became a single mum. I came back from London with a 4 month old baby, a maxi cosi and a suitcase. And I had to move in with my parents.
I immediatly started looking for a job, which I found after two months. I moved out of my parents’ home, rented a flat and started working. My daughter went to a shiny new nursery. 6 weeks later, I got a phonecall at the end of the day. They couldn’t use me at my job anymore, because “I couldn’t work overtime”. I did specifically say in the job interview I could only work nursery hours. And even then my child would be away from home from 7 am to 7 pm. She didn’t have a fulltime daddy anymore, nor a fulltime mummy either. I continued looking for work, while my daughter went to nursery at 25€/day. After two months and 800 euros later, I had to take her out of nursery. I lost her place there and was left with a HUGE financial gap. It took me two years to repay it
So, I became stuck and I had to apply for unemployment benefits. I enrolled my daughter in a state funded nursery, but the waiting list was epic. Before it was her time to go there, she was able to go to school. And in the meantime, I found a boyfriend. His story is not mine to tell, but the end of the story is: I became a single mum for the second time. I wasn’t happy with this situation, have been hitting my head against the wall blaming my own stupidity. And you know what? I became depressed! I had a minor post natal depression after the birth of my daughter. But the depression I had while being pregnant of Henry lasted two years. Actually, now we are brutally honest here, I just came off a whole ****load of antidepressants last month. I have been seeing various psychiatrists and people to make me realise I am not such a bad and stupid person after all.
So, in the midst of my own personal breakdown, I still had to take care of my kids. I still had to pay my bills, and my debts and I was still on benefits. Benefits for a single mother with two kids is the most minimum you can have. I get on average 1000 euros/month in unemployment benefit plus 300 euros in child benefits. My rent is 550€, gas and electricity 150€, water 30€, debts 200€ (which include gas and electricity bills which I couldnt pay off in one go): 930 euros! 370 euros left to pay for food, clothes for me and the children, nappies, wet wipes, medication, doctor’s visits, outings…etc…Amidst the worse economical breakdown since I was born. Prices of food have soared and I am left most days with feeding my children while I go hungry. Thank goodness I have my parents and grandparents who come to aid, if I don’t get to the end of the month! Thank goodness for my grandmother to make me food when all I have is bread in the cupboard.
Yes, I am on benefits: How do you think I like that? Don’t you think I want a way out of this situation?
You know what? I have found a way out of this situation! Thanks to the jobcentre I can go back to school and retrain. We have a chronic shortage of nurses in Belgium. It is so bad, employers are now trying to attract nurses from other countries to work here. The jobcentre has given me the opportunity to do a three year course and work in the healthcare system. As a mother, who does a lot of “carework” already, I jumped at this chance! 3 years of hard graft, with the guarantee I will always have a job! I have found a nanny for Henry, who offered to take care of him for free. I can’t seriously thank this lady enough. Elizabeth is a big girl now, who is going to school fulltime. And me…I am taking the next step in providing for my family. All by myself! I will not only be a fulltime single parent, I will also be a fulltime student. Am I mad? Probably, yes…..
So, dear people, before you find it necessary again to say: “oh, you get money from the government and I get nothing”, could you please spare a moment and think some people do actually struggle! And some people are eternally greatful, for what basically is a handout. I am truely sorry I asked for this handout. But please, come and live in my shoes for a month and then see again how desperately I want out.
THE REPLY FROM SAID TWEETER AFTER READING MY POST:
“I understand where you come from, but you put a negative connotation on everything”
I have had a fair few comments on this blogpost already and each and every single one of them has been positive and encouraging. The said tweeters response was the only negative one. Who is the negative nancy then, I wonder!
I am proud of what I have accomplished over the years. The situation I am in, I don’t wish on my enemies, nor my friends. I am looking to the future with great courage!
Thank you all for the lovely replies and messages