Waiting for better in an uncertain world.
Lately, I’ve been dreaming about threat; situations where I’m unable to stop terrible things happening. Some of that predisposition to fear the worst is perhaps due to watching too much news, reading too many articles about the advance of climate change and so-on. But most is probably more to do with my financial situation.
5 years ago, in my piece ‘Working Around Illness when You’re Self Employed’ I outlined why it’s not easy to earn a living when one has health issues. Those issues don’t go away and are made worse by government polices that purposely erode support for those with disabilities; our DLA was replaced with PIP and most of us were turned down. The ‘minimum income threshold’ was introduced to remove some benefits from the low-income self-employed. Remaining benefits have not been increased to match inflation and so-on. So disabled people who have permanent or chronic conditions are really not doing well.
The rise of energy prices, rents and the massive hike in food prices – particularly at the low end where many cheap lines have been discontinued – has, for me, made the end of each week somewhat tense. About 20% of the UK population now live ‘hand-to-mouth’ according to many reports published recently on-line. In the USA about 30% of people live ‘pay-check-to-pay-check’. Often, on Fridays, I have a nearly empty fridge, no fuel in the car and very little electricity left on my pre-payment meter. Luckily, I have wonderful customers who understand my situation and if I invoice them on a Friday or Saturday, at least one will normally pay straight away so I can do some shopping and continue to live with some semblance of normality.
But, often, my customers have other things going on in their lives and they don’t get around to paying, or perhaps are unable to pay for several days. In those situations, I just have to wait. The problem being that with insufficient fuel in the car, dwindling electricity on the meter and very little in the fridge, it’s hard to do much other than stay home. Those are days I should be working for other customers. If I wait one, two or three days for payment, those are one, two or three days I can’t work and earn money – it’s a negative feedback loop that makes each week worse than the last unless I can find some additional time, somehow, somewhere. But given my restrictions are also in large part due to my health, its a double whammy. When I can’t work due to health I lose. When I’m healthy enough to work but can’t afford to work, I also lose. What’s left, week to week, day to day, hand to mouth is constantly precarious.
There are millions of people in this situation. It’s nothing new. But as many of us in this situation get older the prospects for anything improving become vanishingly small. I found it difficult in my 50s but now, in my 60s, it feels uphill all the way, all the time. Tory governments seem to revel in making life tougher for those who already are struggling and love to impose further austerity for the poor and disabled while enriching the rich with billions. Labour has shifted to the right and has pretty much followed the Tory line, and there’s been not one iota of firm policy published of late to put our minds at rest. Starmer’s rhetoric to scrap Work Capability Assessments and Universal Credit and make benefits systems “fit for the 21st Century” doesn’t help unless we know what will replace those systems. Will DLA return? Will PIP be improved? Will the MIT be revised? So far, Starmer has shown himself to be totally untrustworthy and firmly on the side of our oppressors rather than showing any meaningful solidarity with those under the thumb of the ruling class.
Meanwhile, we, those for whom health and age severely limit our options, wait. We wait to be able to do anything that those on a decent wage do without thinking. We wait to be able to travel to work, we wait for food, we wait for heat and light. We wait, living the dream.
I know exactly what you mean Nick. Having worked full time as a repairer and restorer of antique musical instruments (concertinas) since 1997, knowing how much I can charge for a job, how much customer is prepared to pay, and how much time the job will take, my income just bounces along the bottom, with constant cash flow problems. I can’t afford to take time off for illness, and scarcely ever have a decent holiday. My job is a passion, and I could possibly have chosen something more profitable to do.
No one pays the self employed holiday pay or sick pay, we have to take out insurance policies against getting sick, which I can’t afford to do.
I was hoping that my wife’s pension would help with our living costs, but that is still two years away as the government raised the retirement age.
Yes, absolutely. I think I’m still marginally better off not retiring at the moment so I’ve delayed applying for state pension as they pay more if you leave it for a few years. It’s truly horrible always scraping through and often not scraping through every week. Best wishes.