Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hard Times

Very disappointed and worried today that Labour failed to get a majority. We stayed up nearly all night to watch the results coming in, and it's hard to describe the despair that comes over me when I consider what may lie ahead for us with the Tories potentially back in power.

This isn't a political blog, so I won't go on about my reaction here. But I was writing something tonight on the Poets on fire forum in defence of Labour and the many good things they have done for our country - as well as their appalling mistakes like the war in Iraq - and I found myself recounting an anecdote about my life in the 'blocked' gap between my first novel and poetry collection and the day I started writing again, some five years later.

It was a time in my life I had almost forgotten about, my quality of life having improved so much since those dreadful days, back in the early years of the noughties. But that experience came back to me forcibly as I wrote about it, so I'm going to share it here as well:

In 2002-03, we were living in a tiny two bedroom rented house in North Cornwall, with a living room barely larger than a bathroom. We shared that space with four children (including baby twins) and had another child on the way, while my partner worked from 6am till late at night in a truly grim job and was too exhausted at the end of each day to do much more than sleep, just so we could afford to keep that roof over our heads.
I had no one to help me out, no relatives in England, and when I went to try and get a night shift in a meat-packing factory - one of the few night jobs available - so I could help with the breadwinning side of things, I was turned away because I was 'over-qualified'. All I had was three A levels, and I was over-qualified for the kinds of jobs you can do at night in a rural community.
Around that time, I got really sick with flu. I remember one day feeling too sick and delirious to look after the twins, but knew I had to, since there was no one else to do it. My other kids were at school, my partner was at work, and the babies were crying. I lay down on the floor next to their bouncers and started to feed them - I was pregnant again at the time; a difficult pregnancy, for we had been warned the child could be Downs - and actually passed out. When I came round, I felt completely alone and in despair, not knowing how we were going to survive.

I'm not wringing my hands over that awful time. We climbed out of it. But guess how? Child and working tax credits were introduced that year, and they made the most incredible difference to our lives.
Thanks to tax credits, we were finally able to afford to move away from that rural area in search of better work for my partner. We got a bigger place, I had my last baby, who was not a Downs Syndrome child but perfectly healthy - thank goodness I never agreed to the abortion I was automatically offered after the test results! - and I started to earn money from writing again.
I cried the day we got our first tax credits payment. That was how bad it had been for us, and how relieved I was to have money in the bank again, to be able to breathe. And I shall never forget that a Labour government did that for us.


Matt Merritt said...

I think, as someone said on PoF, one of their big mistakes has been their failure to trumpet some real achievements, because of fear of the right-wing press.

Ben Wilkinson said...

Thank you for sharing this, Jane - a very powerful and pertinent testimony. I too was very disheartened to witness Labour's losses and the Tory's gains this election, and am concerned now that we will end up with the latter in government as the Lib Dems look increasingly likely to support them and abandon a number of the principles they campaigned under; PR for one.

It's a shame, as Matt says, that Labour didn't draw more attention to their truly great achievements of the past 12 years: tax credits and the minimum wage foremost among them.

Ms Baroque said...

Jane, I remember during that time breaking a teapot and bursting into tears, the final straw, I had no money to replace it.

Now here we are in a recession again, the job market's crammed with redundant people (like me), and I have to say its getting scary. Well, we shall see. One thing I seem to remember: the Tories aren't the ones for getting people back to work.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Jane

My wife and I both voted Labour and at least we helped to get our own MP (Peter Hain) re-elected. The problem with toffs like Cameron and even Clegg is that they were both born into wealthy families and have no conception of how most people are forced to live. Like you, we have experienced genuine poverty in the past (see my 'Victorian Values') and feel real gratitude towards the much maligned Gordon Brown and his party.

Best wishes from Simon