‘I’m on £14500 a year and it’s a knife-edge lifestyle’


I live on the brink. I work 35 hours for 39 weeks plus five weeks’ paid leave and, as a result of recent changes, three of us are doing the job of five, which means we are always playing catch-up.

I’m now on £14,512 a year. It’s a knife-edge lifestyle. I just scrape by, but if anything unexpected happens it tips me over the edge and I have to borrow. At Christmas my boiler broke down and needed £300 worth of repairs and I had to borrow from my mother and pay her back in instalments. I still owe her £50.

For nine years I worked in a pupil referral unit and did outreach in schools with pupils at risk of exclusion on a salary of £1,450 a month gross. Then my car broke down and I couldn’t replace it so I had to give up the outreach work and survive on monthly net earnings of £811.

The job became unrecognisable due to austerity cuts.

I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, partly due to the stress, and moved to my current job, which is designing and producing visual resources for children with autistic and behavioural challenges to use in class.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that hard work doesn’t make you richer, it just makes you ill. I live by myself and have always had to rely on my one wage which has never been more than £1,156 a month net.

I bought a dilapidated two-up-two-down 12 years ago for £82,000 with a 95% mortgage. I was having to find more than £500 a month in repayments until I moved to a tracker mortgage which costs £290.

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I budget £116 a month for utilities and council tax is £72. I put £60 to £70 into my work pension. I don’t have the internet. My dad bought me a smartphone and I spend £10 a month on pay-as-you-go. I rent my washing machine because I can’t afford to buy one. I don’t know how I could cut costs any further than I do – I have to make sure I have enough money to cook dinner.

My fridge is rarely full. I’m a vegetarian and grow as much as I can on the allotment I share with my dad. The weekly Tesco shop costs me about £50, including a bottle of wine that lasts me a week. I stand and look at the nice coffee and biscuits and pick them up and put them down again. I’ll know I’ve arrived if I can shop at M&S!

Friends are very kind and ask me out and offer to pay for me, but I don’t let them because I want to pay my way. Most of my socialising involves cups of tea at people’s houses at weekends – I’m too tired after work.

I’d love to have enough money to be able to treat others. Christmas has become a dirty word because I can’t afford presents. Luckily my family aren’t materialistic and I make cakes or try to paint something, but that takes time that I don’t have.

I have a degree in fine art and I recently started life drawing classes which cost £5, but the travel adds £10 to that. I haven’t been abroad for 26 years and never take holidays. During my eight weeks’ unpaid leave I visit family or potter about at home.

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A rare treat is a trip to London to visit an exhibition but that can cost £70 in entry fees and travel. I’d love to be able to buy clothes from alternative shops that describe my creative personality. As it is, I have to rely on charity shops and donations from friends. I’ve just had to buy a pair of shoes which cost £69 and I still feel guilty about it but they were essential for weekend wear.

It’s a national scandal how little women are paid. My salary is that of a low-grade administrator, and the complexities and responsibilities of the job are not recognised. I’ve complained, but nothing changes.

I’m just waiting to retire, which I hope I can do when I’m 55, but I don’t expect any improvement in my situation. I can’t work any harder than I do but I have barely enough to live on, and the question I continually ask is why are the jobs of so many thousands of people like me not valued fairly?

As told to Anna Tims



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