In 2011 I became part of a research project called ‘the lived experiences of welfare reform’. The group was formed by Ruth Patrick who was studying social policy at the University of Leeds. As part of Ruth’s research she wanted to find out about the lives of those on benefits. Ruth has interviewed me several times over the past few years and, in 2013 a group of us came together to make an animated film about our experiences of welfare reform. We became known as the ‘Dole Animators’.
I was claiming benefits at the time and had just moved into my own house. I found simple living a struggle and ended up in a bit of debt. I come from a hard working family and struggling on benefits made me feel worthless and depressed and I knew I had to make some changes.
I never received much help from the jobcentre to help me get back into work I found it such a hard process going to the jobcentre with my young son, he would need feeding or entertaining and I couldn’t concentrate. It was as if no one really listened to my ambitions or goals so long as I was actively looking for work I was able to ‘sign on’. I feel I was only really grateful for benefit payments so I could keep my house, it wasn’t a lifestyle choice for me. I wanted to better myself and my lifestyle and felt as though the jobcentre was not really interested in supporting me into good work.
As my confidence deteriorated I knew I had to make life improvements so when my annual tenants magazine came through the post advertising a ‘passion 4 fashion’ project I pushed myself to make the first steps to get involved. During this project I was approached by an employee of Leeds Federated Housing and asked if I would like to do some voluntary work for the housing association. I remember feeling so happy and excited to be given this opportunity and soon started voluntary work. I did 6 months of unpaid work at Leeds Federated which gave me my confidence back and self belief, so much so that I was then employed by Leeds Federated Housing for two years to be part of the ‘Inspire’ project.
Once the inspire project had come to an end I was back to looking for work but from the experience and confidence I had gained from Leeds Federated Housing I didn’t find job searching a struggle and was back working within a couple of months. Which leads me to where I am today. I am a scheme manager for Anchor Housing. Anchor have also given me the opportunity to complete a level 3 GNVQ in housing which I started earlier this year. I feel I have come such a long way since 2011 and I am still pushing myself and setting more goals.
So that’s my background, and now six years on I am still involved with the Dole Animators which is why I was lucky enough to take a trip to London on Tuesday 9 May to discuss the everyday realities of welfare reform and be part of Ruth’s book launch – For Whose Benefit?
We set off at 9 am to get the train to Kings Cross station then caught a black cab to the Fabian Society offices. There were people from different organisations there including Patrick Butler (social policy editor at the Guardian), Andrew Harrop (general secretary at the Fabians), Sarah Duffy (welfare rights advice manager at GIPSL), Rosie Ferguson (chief executive of Gingerbread) and Baroness Ruth Lister from the House of Lords.
The discussion got quite intense with people telling their stories and giving their views and opinions, I found it really interesting to hear about how the state has affected so many people in different ways. I too gave my story and shared my experiences of being on benefits. I was approached at the end of the meeting by Aaron Reeves from LSE who said he found my story inspiring and that I had given him some good ideas to think about. We even trended on Twitter with our hashtag #Whosebenefit (for those who don’t know about Twitter, this is a big deal, almost like making headlines in the newspaper!). We were in high spirits during the taxi ride back to the train station and riding through the centre of London gave me a chance to capture some great pictures.
There are a few upcoming events which I will be getting involved in with the including the launch of ‘a 5 point plan for a brighter future’ by Dole Animators so watch this space…