Heather Walters, who works for the NHSBSA, experienced extreme poverty after she finished college. This is her story.
In 2011, our family broke down. My dad moved out and left me and my mum. He was the main breadwinner. Mum worked part-time in Tesco on the night shift and I was fresh out of college and on benefits struggling to find a job. In April 2011, my grandad (mum’s dad) died, which left her with no family other than me. She decided to move away and work for a friend in pub kitchens. It paid more but I could not move with her. After she moved out, my dad wanted to sell the house. He didn’t want me living there on my own while he was paying the mortgage. This was when my struggles began.
On my 20th birthday, I moved into my own little one bed flat. I had never paid rent or main bills before, still didn’t have a job, and had to try and run a household making ends meet. I lived on £56 and change per week, a benefit paid every fortnight. I was one of the lucky ones though, I had a whole two bedroom house worth of stuff to cram into that little one bed flat, so I wanted for nothing furniture wise. Had I not had the luxury of my parents splitting up and both leaving home before me, I would have had nothing but my own bedroom furniture.
While I didn’t have to pay rent or council tax (the days when you could have it all paid for you when you were on benefits) I still had to pay for other bills like TV licence, insurance, gas and electric in a flat that still had single glazing and a boiler twice my age. That first winter was cold. I didn’t have a prepayment meter; I still paid monthly by direct debit. I was careful with the heating and lights, and put an extra blanket/jumper/sleeping bag/quilt on so I didn’t have to put the heating on. I also used hot water bottles and candles for lighting when I could keep the cats away from them. Safe to say the cold did nothing for my disabilities.
It started to get to the point where I couldn’t afford food anymore, I was already buying the cheapest I could and shopping around for the yellow stickers so I could have some fresh food and not just smart price noodles. Bills were going up but my benefit wasn’t. I couldn’t ask my family for help; dad wasn’t bothered and mum had her own bills to worry about. Before this, I had never heard of the Trussell Trust, nor had we ever used food banks before. My granddad was a miner; we came from a pit village where everyone helped each other out.
It was not like that where I lived. I knew no one but my next door neighbour, who was in the same situation as me. I went to the job centre; they offered me a hardship loan that would be paid back by instalments taken out of my fortnightly payments. Helpful when I was already struggling to make ends meet. The council couldn’t do anything as there was nothing left for them to do. They already paid my rent and council tax.
Eventually, I managed to get a job with the NHS. I was on the phones at NHS direct, before it changed to 111, and it got a little easier, but I still struggled to keep the house going. I received a 25% single persons discount on my council tax, but had to pay full rent as well as everything I was already paying. It still wasn’t the best of times, but I made it work.
Forwarding time on, Mum came home again, and I now live with her and my partner. We volunteer as Experts by Experience for Food Power Newcastle (we have our own Facebook page by the way) and help people who are in similar situations to us. We help our community by meeting MPs, local government, other charities, and organisations that provide emergency and non-emergency food aid and join everyone together – this now includes the Trussell Trust.
Had I have known about them at the time, I probably would have used their services, as I felt like there was no way out, and then at least I may have been able to eat for an extra few days while I was struggling. At least we know about them now so we can signpost those in need and attempt to break the stigma.
I am so proud that my employer, NHSBSA, is supporting the Trussell Trust as well as Samaritans. Together we can make a difference and inspire people around us to take action and help in some way.