Its all in the money, honey...

Wherever one travels in the world, when there are State benefits for it's citizens there are promotors and haters. Just 5 years ago the UK ranked at 46th on the global table of benefit given to it's citizens within the first year of being unemployed, with countries such as Taiwan, Tunisia, Azerbaijan and Venezuela ranking much higher.
Britain's post war Labour government lead by Clement Attlee implemented the Welfare state and included not only income for the unwaged but also free education and health care. Fast forward 72 years and some of the biggest and most controversial changes to the vision of  William Beverage, Liberal politicians' 1943 proposal are amongst us. The NHS is being privatised at a rapid rate, schools are being sold to corporates with the aim of turning education into a business and financial aid is being re-branded as Universal Credit where job seeking is a big brother observed task demanding 35 hours per week of on-line compliance.

Without quite knowing what our future plans would be, whilst I was still waged,  Tasha and I had already started re-designing and implementing changes in the garden. When I first moved in over 4 years ago, to a plot that had never been gardened I was in my element. Every horticulturalists dream is to have a virgin plot. Initially I tackled to the front of the house to keep "The Jones" happy, and ensure that neighbours would quickly understand that the new tenant of No21 was not a relation of The Clampetts and establish myself within the cul-de-sac as an obviously house proud, organised, and fastidious member of the community. (I think in my case this is classed as "fur coat and no knickers"!) I worked solidly on lovingly attacking various areas, choosing perennials,  collecting and filling rusty aluminium containers and then CHALK happened.

During the first year of CHALK I managed to get into the garden on a few sunny days for sunbathing and pottering. By year 2 any definition of borders or landscape design had vanished under tangles of nettles, dock's, dandelions and ground elder which had previously been at the point of becoming tamed and managed. But by October this year when I relinquished my Directorship of CHALK, with Tasha's help and also the input of a couple of Syrian refugees I had befriended,  we had started to recreate a space that we could be proud of. After spending some time in Portugal earlier in the year we came home with a desire for an outside eating area (totally neglecting to remember that on the border of Wales we have an average of about 2.4 days where alfresco dining is a reality).
My wombling skills had already formed a nice pile of usable timber including 6 lengths of telegraph pole I had managed to talk a farmer into selling to me for £20. Inspiration had come from a visit to Bonn and Tony's small Quinta close to the Serra da Estrela.

Outdoor kitchen
A hastily, but enthusiastically scribbled  design, which quite closely resembled their outdoor kitchen, but with my own wombling and love of aluminium got handed to Hassim, whom was soon to become chief engineer and design consultant of all future structural projects. I've always loved to do anything on the cheap and free is even better,  so pallets were gather and the mountain of begged, borrowed and repurposed wood grew.
pallet project
palletsThe only spend was the corrugated sheet metal which came in at £340 including delivery from Wolverhampton and hardware around £100. Hassim and his trusted side kick Mustafa  got stuck in and over the course of a few days hard labour  our erection was erected. For those that are concerned about the scale, it literally, to the cm,  within the boundaries of planning regulations. But one must think big when envisioning future hosting of Caribbean inspired alfresco soiree's. The first and must have purchase to dress the kitchen was a Mid-West mock of a smoker/BBQ,  an Ebay purchase for £170 but Smokergate is a story for another day! What I am sort of coming around to explaining is that this sort of spending will not be possible now and we are very glad that it all happened before I quit my job and decided to "practice the art of graceful living" otherwise known as "claiming the dole".
outdoor kitchen

So what will our income be and how will we manage on it? In February of 2017 Tasha was to face the dreaded and fear instilling interview of a PIP assessment. Personal Independence Payments have had a hysteria of bad press and quite rightly so I feel. Reports of people with terminal illnesses being refused and requested to join job skill classes abound, along with horror stories of suicides and starvation bought on by callous assessors making decisions based upon DWP implemented targets to reduce claimants. Tasha had been ill for sometime culminating in a breakdown which was not  a grandiose display of blabbering and rocking in a corner, rather a slow decline, a drip, drip of lack of functionality, which was to get a lot worse before it got anywhere near getting better. But again this is a subject for a separate post. In April she received notification that she had indeed been seen as sick enough to receive the payments which also included a care element. At this time Tasha was still residing in Stoke with her elder sister looking after her.  Her PIP payments total £360 per fortnight and £400 every 4 weeks also making her eligible for Housing benefit and Council Tax Benefit.  Annually this culminates in approx. £14, 400 of cash plus housing costs met. We had always planned on moving in together fully but just not really got around to it. When I took the decision to leave CHALK I didn't have any firm plans on what I would do next. I knew it could not involve, at this time anything within the care sector and sat for a couple of weeks trawling through job sites, half filling in applications forms for jobs I was very well qualified for but the horror of responsibility would hit and none got sent. As time ticked on and Tasha was financing me I realised that I was still too worn out to work at anything demanding much use of the grey matter. We took a much needed break to visit an old friend of mine Annie, who had been through her own battle of sickness but during her recovery had set up a business making organic creams and lotions. .She spoke of how she developed her business and how it in itself was although at times demanding and stressful, therapeutic and rewarding. And it got us thinking if we could start a little something from home meaning that we could live together, work together, be ethical and heal ourselves whilst doing so.
The first thing we would need is time. Tasha had been given by PIP 3 years in which to mend and pay for her care. Her care payments are for 35 hours a week, if horticulture can be classed as therapeutic care and I as a qualified Horticulture Teacher and Level 3 Social Care provider we saw no reason that she could not move in with me full time and combine these traits. Her as payee and I as waged by her. It is not a generous payment just £67 a week, but as her registered care giver I would be relinquished from the 35hours per week of job hunting I would be required to do when signing up for Universal Credit and still be entitle to a personal payment from the government. But On 21st of October  when I submitted my on-line claim for UC this had not occurred to us,  and received in response an email quoting that I would be probably get my first payment of £666 to cover both rent and living costs per month on 6th Jan 2018. So with fingers crossed I had a week of November, all of December and a bit of Jan to await my payment. Considering that during that period of time I would be accruing 10 weeks of rent arrears of £97 per week by the time I received my payment I would already be £331 in debt and I still had to take out the 14% of bedroom tax due as I had a spare bedroom, I was beginning my period of welfare benefit on the back foot.
The email stated that within 2 days I would receive a call from my local Job Centre to invite me for an interview. If I was late (otherwise translated as if I did not turn up 15 mins early) or did not attend, my claim would be cancelled. After 8 days of not hearing anything I phoned (55 mins of being redirected through various departments) to be told that "sorry, although we can see that you submitted a claim the computer did not hold it", what does "not hold it mean"? I asked "Oh it just means that there was a computer problem, it sometimes happens and you will have to start again", "do you mean re-submit the hour long on-line form"? I asked. "yes" person with Scottish lilt replied. So I got straight back on the PC re-did the hour long form, pressed send and was told I did not qualify for UC! I phoned again 1.5hours of being bounced around various departments that neither recognised my problem, understood what had happened previously or gave a dam. Eventually I was informed that due to having an open Tax Credit claim the computer had bounced back my claim. "But I spoke to Tax Credit on 17th October and stopped my claim" (this is a benefit for workers on low income)I patiently told the robot on the other end of the line. We can't help you here, phone Tax Credits. "But are you not all under DWP"? I asked, wasn't this the justification for UC that all benefits would now be dealt with under one umbrella to avoid this? "I can see all your actions on the Central Information Database and so will Tax Credits be able to, I can see that you phoned to cancel your Tax Credits but because we are UC are they are TC you have to speak to them as the computer has stopped your claim".
I ring Tax Credits. "you can't stop your claim" I am told, " UC contacts us to let us know that you have put in a claim and we cancel your claim", "but I did contact you, you sent me a letter telling me that you had received the information from me that I had, had a change in circumstance but when I claimed UC due to you saying I was receiving TC my claim was cancelled" "You can not cancel your own claim" robot with no brain cells repeats to me. "What if I had won the jackpot on the Lottery", I smugly retorted "if I can't inform you that my claim needs cancelling I could be a multi millionaire and still receive the paltry £127 a month from you". "if you have won the lottery you need to cancel your claim" says dickhead that I am ready to hitchhike up to Scunthorpe or wherever they produce the morons that work for the DWP and shoot, by hand, with a sling shot thousands of very sharp, stingy hurty objects. "I've not won the lottery", I am beginning to shout and at the same time in the back of mind the alarm bells are ringing reminding me of the recorded message which is replayed a thousand times whilst you are on hold and listening to a despotic orchestra's rendition of Handel's Water Music, that "the DWP will not tolerate any verbal assault or violent language towards their staff". I am verbally paralysed, at the whim of a faceless Scottish borders git who cares not a jot that I have given the last 3 years of my life to working virtually for free in my community to cover the shortfalls in our Social Care System because the bloody Tory government are busy implementing Austerity whilst creaming the lolly to the tune of billions by funding privatisation to their Eton educated chums. Erstwhile convincing the Daily Mail readers that it is all the fault of Single Parent Social Scroungers and illegal immigrants. "I will reapply" I meekly respond.
I input  another few entries into my very tired PC and eventually on the 8th of December am accepted to await my phone call from my local job centre. I am eventually seen by a living person, (well 2 actually. 1 who takes all the details that I have entered into their system approximately 27 times and 1 who is my job coach. Neither whom are allowed to discuss with me how much, when or by what means I may get paid. As I have to get that information from UC, who now have a new phone number as the other one was proving to be too complicated for the average dole claimant! ) and a letter in mid December informs me that I will be receiving £317 per month daily living allowance with my first payment due 17th January. My debt in now creeping over £500, without spending a penny and being reliant on a system created to prevent poverty.
It was during this period of Welfare state inertia and inspiration from Annie that I started to develop my cunning plan to become Tasha's carer. which would relieve me of having to spend 35 hours a week job searching and create my own job that would give me the ability to still my mind and recover from the previous job. Do something that I was enthusiastic about, offer Tasha an alternative therapy to medication, with care from someone who really cares and try to create a business that the government can pat themselves on back with and truly say that they invested in a small business.

So my income will be £3804 an annum, added to Tasha's £14.400 will be £18, 204. For 2 people to live, pay bedroom tax, run a car and grow a business. Sure it can be done. Keep watching this space.
Outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchen

Before I sign off I must apologise to Joy whom when I put the first post onto FB and ask for critic she very kindly mentioned that blogging should be a bit shorter and punchier. I tried Joy, all the time I was heeding your words and I will keep trying to make it shorter.


  1. Great post! The first few will be brain dumps as you catch up on yourself. Don't worry about it, just let it flow. Your writing is a pleasure to read. When you get your book deal obviously you'll have to go back and rewrite - this post could be about four or five separate posts for example - but don't fret about that for now. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you Becca means a lot especially coming from you. I read through your blog and was hit with the, "Oh my goodness, I will never be as polished and professional as that!" Yours is beautiful and I can't wait to link to it when you decide to let it free. I am working on camera skills, and reading a lot on how to bump up viewing, head is fried a little but I know more than yesterday and a hell of a lot more than last week xxx


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