Ella’s sitting on the café counter kicking her red shoes. Trying to chose a cupcake. Pink sprinkles? Yellow flowers? Kate’s ordering coffee.
“I’m lucky really,” she says, fishing in her purse. “Ella’s dad still wants to be a part of her life. Even though we’re not together any more. He’s with someone else now. Of course.”
Ella chooses sprinkles. Kate sweeps her off the counter
“I’m sorry. I’m fifty pee short. Can I pay you next week?”
Being lucky’s a relative concept when you’re a single mum.
Tracey’s next in the queue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so cold. I know it’s December, but it’s actually quite mild for the time of year.
“Are you OK?”
Tracey’s even less lucky than Kate. Her children’s father isn’t part of their lives now. He’s in prison. For beating Kate senseless. Her children are in care.
“Bloody freezing,” she says. “Me electric’s gone.”
She hugs her coffee. She missed an appointment. Letter got lost in the chaos after her partner was arrested. They’ve punished her by stopping her benefits. They prefer to call it ‘sanctioning’. Not punishment. Sounds nicer. She’s been in a freezing cold house for three days. No food. No heating. No hot water. No way even to make a cup of tea. A fairly hefty punishment for having a violent boyfriend. It hasn’t done a lot to help her chronic depression. The reason she was signed off work in the first place.
Since the European election I’ve behaved pretty well. Kept my head below the political barricade. Blogged about all kinds of other things. Today Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West has pushed me right back over the edge. Thanks to him, Oxfam is facing an investigation by the Charity Commission. Their crime? To have the audacity to publish a poster suggesting that poverty in the UK is getting worse as a result of decisions made by the government.
Shameful he says it is. I couldn’t agree more. Benefit cuts leave vulnerable women like Tracey destitute. Zero hours contracts mean people are technically employed, but actually have no guarantee of work … Oh, hold on a minute. He doesn’t mean that at all. He means Oxfam getting involved in politics. Objecting to what his political party happens to be doing. When they should be deferentially distributing alms to the deserving poor. Focusing on the relief of poverty and famine overseas. Not worrying their pretty little heads about politics. After all, what does poverty have to do with politics?
Ever since the very first caveman decided to clobber his neighbour and take over his cave, wealth and poverty have been the root and ground of politics. Poverty’s the inevitable result of a few people grabbing far more than their fair share of the world’s resources. Politics is one method of holding onto that privilege. Which of course is why My Burns is up in arms about it all. Especially with an election in the offing.
It seems to rattle Tory politicians when an influential charity decides to exercise freedom of speech. Iain Duncan Smith didn’t exactly emerge from last year’s spat with the Trussell Trust smelling of roses. Maybe Mr Burns thinks he’ll fare better. Or perhaps this is all part of David Cameron’s ‘moral mission’. His crusade against the poor. After all, the Trussell Trust are relative newcomers. Having a pop at them may simply have been testing the water. Oxfam are major league. Discredit them. Muzzle them. Along with any other charities who might want to point out out what the government’s up to. Preferably in time for the next election. Then who’ll be left to stand up for Kate and Tracey?
I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at http://www.one25.org.uk/. You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.