Friends with Benefits

Benefits photo.pngHesitant as to whether I could return to writing with a potty-mouth, now that I am a mother and on the stretch to 40, I find a green the light in the form of a guest priest at the local church who talked of burying his kids under the patio, and his wife getting her kit off in Rome… to on-going applause. Great, I’m back in my comfort zone.

If you’re licking your lips reading the title of this and expecting a piece on casual sex then prepare to be disappointed: this is a blog on the UK benefits system for single parents, AKA ‘Over 30 with a mortgage? Tough shit’.

Whilst this blog site was set out to sell the smiley end of the mind-set continuum, regardless of life’s circumstances, today brings something of a rant; albeit one which I hope will in the least trigger the odd laugh or help others studying accountancy in order to understand the tax credits system. To evidence this, in my desperation, I searched online to find out if money super hero Martin Lewis could shed any light – and found an interview in which he confirms it’s a mind field…

And there lies the irony: you need to be or have an Accountant to fill out these forms, yet those earning enough to warrant an Accountant will not qualify for the tax credit support (to clarify, working tax credits stop at £15,000 a year, according to the woman at HMRC I spoke to last week, and they start to drop when you earn more than £6,000…!).

I’m attempting mild disappointment here, (the type which you portray when your child chooses to empty every drawer in his room and then puts on as many clothes as possible to make you laugh by “being really wide”), but I fear I shall veer into thoroughly pissed off (the type that you feel when the your child refuses to get dressed for school and you have been arguing for 40 minutes over a coat).

Means-testing is fine – but why not means-test via questions such as:

Did you go bare-back to get a free house?

What is the ratio of honest days of work you have you done in your life, to days you have been physically or mentally able to work?

With scoring outcome categories such as:

Band A: ‘We feel compassion you were left for a glamour model, how much money do you need until you get back on your feet/to keep you going?’

Band B: ‘Here’s £50’

Band C: ‘On Your Bike Sunshine’

And whilst on the subject of system processes, perhaps the complex calculations could be shared with the people who actually work out what you are entitled to… Despite submitting my earnings and previously applicable childcare costs to the penny each year, I have been landed with a four-figure repayment bill in year one, a repayment in year two and have just had every penny stopped due to an apparent overpayment in childcare contributions this year.

This doesn’t take away my gratitude for the help I get (when they don’t take it back off me). It allows me to just about hang onto my mortgage. And it is a lesson to be grateful for every penny in waitressing tips and to embrace the free things in life like kicking leaves and jumping in puddles (with child…). And I don’t begrudge my position as a single parent – I get to grow all my body hair, I can watch utter crap on TV and I get to sleep in a starfish position in the middle of the bed; with no concern for any dribbling I do.

So in order to provide some form of conclusion for anyone in the similar position, from what I can gather: those renting are better to work 16 hours a week and get all bills paid for, those with mortgages are best to work at least 30 hours a week; ideally around school hours so you avoid childcare costs (all hail the existence of the Waitress role).

So whilst on one hand I’d take an unpaid best-selling author status for the satisfaction alone, I would be nothing short of ecstatic to top up my table-waiting wages with a writing advance that put me over the threshold for claiming tax credits.

Failing that, I shall start sleeping with an Accountant.


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