It’s been a bit of a week. I feel like I say that every week, but last week has been exceptional. I spent a day being photographed playing with Small Boy for a national poverty campaign, then a day cooking for the Telegraphs food writer and accompanying photographer, and three Council scrutiny meetings in the evening, and then a night interviewing fab socialist rhythm n blues band Thee Faction at the Railway Hotel. Then I got a Council Tax bill and am back down to earth with a thump, punching figures into my Excel spreadsheet and wondering what else I can cut back on. It was all going so well. And now, it isn’t.
But funnily enough, all of these things are connected. The Council Tax bill comes as the central Government budget for Council Tax Benefit is slashed by 10%. Ten percent probably doesn’t sound a lot to most people, but in real terms, it means that people who were previously exempted from paying Council Tax due to having a disability, being elderly, being poor, unemployed, or on low incomes – some of those people are now going to have a Council Tax bill through their letterboxes. People like me. I’ve taken it on the chin; having to find £160 a month plus £50 a month in backdated payments from some cock-up last year, means the first thing I’ve done is pull Small Boy out of nursery. The knock-on effect of this is that it is 1 o clock in the afternoon and I’ve got sod all work done, because I have a crying child hanging off my leg who wants to go to nursery.
“Sweetheart, go and play in your room for a little while, because Mummy has to work” quickly turned into “WILL YOU GO AND PLAY IN YOUR ROOM BECAUSE MUMMY HAS GOT WORK TO DO. AND IF MUMMY DOESN’T WORK, WE DON’T HAVE A HOME. AND WE DON’T HAVE FOOD. AND RIGHT NOW WE ONLY *JUST* HAVE A HOME AND WE ONLY *JUST* HAVE FOOD, SO WILL YOU *PLEASE* LEAVE ME ALONE FOR *TEN* MINUTES SO I CAN JUST *FINISH* WHAT I’M DOING?”
And thus, just before his third birthday, Small Boy learns a quick and bellowed lesson about economics, and the failure of the welfare state.
I wanted to write a happy column this week. Business has been going well, photos were selling down at the gallery, I had some orders for cross stitch pictures and some orders for cufflinks and the Excel spreadsheet upon which I do my household finances was looking good. And then BAM. One Council Tax bill and a follow-up phonecall later and the happy green numbers are angry red numbers, and I’m writing the apologetic email to the nursery saying that Small Boy will no longer be attending because I can’t afford the 30% top up on his fees that weren’t covered by Child and Working Tax Credits, and I won’t be able to afford them again for the foreseeable future.
I went to see Les Mis at the cinema a couple of weeks ago, a treat from a friend. I sat there through the two and a half hours wondering what on earth it will take for a revolution in this country. As I said the other night at the Railway; ‘we have a day of riots, and then it all dies down. A day of strikes, and then we all go back to work. Another march, and even before its over, they’re sweeping it all up and fixing the broken windows while the Police stand on guard outside Starbucks and Fortnum and Mason. Everything goes back to normal; only this isn’t normal. The demonization of the poor and the low-paid workers and the elderly and the disabled isn’t normal, but it’s accepted. So where’s the revolution?”
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe