WORDS: Eliza Lawson
I am sitting here with a cup of tea on my battered ex hire-purchase DFS sofa, with my 10 year old son at my side. I am watching his big eyes take in and absorb the BBC coverage of the 2015 election results. I am tired. He is eating his breakfast, which is the very last of the cereal and a banana. He feels the fear on me.
‘‘Mum, don’t cry.’’
I watch him finish his cereal as Ed Balls loses his seat. I’m in shock I think.
Our system is flawed.
How have we come to this? Are people so afraid? Are people so delusional and disconnected with politics to see how this is going to directly affect them, their friends, families and people they love? What is it going to take for people to grasp a real informed interest? To take responsibility for our planet and people who live on it and see themselves as part of the bigger picture? My brain is rushing. My heart is heavy and the scenarios start to flood my mind’s eye...
You are diagnosed with having a heart attack and collapsing. How much do you think it is going to cost for the emergency services (that may or may not arrive due to ‘streamlined services’ and ‘out-sourcing’)? And then once you get to the hospital you need bags of fluid, medication, a bed, monitoring...and then there is a complication. You need surgery to save your life.
But before ANY of this happens? There is a question.
‘‘Do you have adequate insurance?’’
Well actually, no. You don’t. You decided you couldn’t afford it. It was choice between you paying to keep your family fed and warm over the winter and you decided to ‘risk it’...the fact that you were stressed to hell after everyone around you in the company that you have worked at for 15 years, has been losing their jobs, taking pay cuts and being forced into zero hour contracts while losing their pensions. It has had more of an effect on your physical and mental health than you had bargained for. You are now going to have to sell your house to stay alive because your hospital bill is nearing £250,000. But your home is only worth £175,000 because you live in a less than ‘desirable’ area and it’s an ex-council property...but your partner and three children need a home...but there is no money and you can’t work because you are ill. There’s no financial support for you...But at least you own your own home right? At least you’re still alive. At least you still have a job waiting for you? At least some ‘dirty immigrant’ hasn’t stolen your real British values.
Now, I realise that this all sounds incredibly dramatic. All very hypothetical and comes from a woman with no real knowledge of exact financial figures etc...but this IS the future unless we chose to do something about it. It will take longer than 5 years to sell off the NHS to a point where we are mirroring the likes of the USA...I get it. But this is REAL.
My hands are shaking as I pack my son off to the middle school he started almost a year ago. For him to sit in classrooms where he is forced to learn in a strict, academic environment, where creativity and innovation are stifled. Where the teachers have no stretch left in them anymore. Where his ‘free’ school ‘dinner’ is far less nutritious than it should be...Where he will end up in an argument with his teacher because he is a little boy that needs to verbally express himself but where the teacher does not have time to indulge his developing brain in questions, answers and thought...
‘‘Please can we review your sons behaviour, he is disruptive and we must get the results we need or Ofsted are coming for us.’’
Woe betide we encourage a generation of fighters, free thinkers, inventors and activists. We must remember that our education system is creating ‘workers’ for our ‘flourishing industries.’
WHAT FUCKING INDUSTRIES?!
‘‘Don’t worry son, we’ll be alright. Have a good day, work hard and keep your head down...love you.’’
I watch him walk down the path of our rented house with his hands pushed deep into his pockets. ‘‘Onwards son.’’ I say to myself as I shut the door with tears of anger, frustration and sheer infuriation running down my face. I want to scream after him...
‘‘Onwards! Hold your head high. Fight. Row. Challenge. Learn. Ask. Create. Don’t you dare fit into the box that they are trying to squish you into. So what if your handwriting doesn’t meet the national standard son. So what if you’re in the bottom set for maths. You’re clever, you’re kind, you’re honest and you’re more emotionally intelligent than some adults...Be you son. Thrive.’’
I sit back down on my DFS sofa. I stare at the television.
My reality? I am a single mother and I have no job, and I don’t know if I can afford the food shop next week or if I can find the cash to top up my extortionate pre payment electricity card. 28 job applications in a month. I have a degree, I’m well qualified. I am intelligent and I am a doer. My rent is reasonable and I have just enough food in my fridge to feed both myself and my son...for now. And I say all this as I feel I need to justify my situation...because society and the media have told me I have to.
Am I on benefits? Yes. Do I like it? No. This is the first time in my life I have not had a job. I am 31. Am I scared? Hell yes...
But I am one of the lucky ones. I know that I will get a job. I know that whatever happens this is the short term for my personal financial situation. I have no other choice but to survive and thrive, because this is bigger than me. It’s about a 10 year old little boy with his hands in his pockets, his future and the future of the generations to come. I do feel sad, but it won’t be for long. I am only one woman on this sofa, but I am a part of my community. I am only one part of my community, but that community is mine to fight for. This sofa may feel big with just me on it, this community may feel vast with so many in it, but you’re all welcome to sit here with me for as long as it takes to lose the tears of today and to push these feelings of frustration into fight.
I feel it. Change is coming. It’s in the breath coming out of my body and the speed of my fingertips on this keyboard. For some reason it seems to be taking our ‘great nation’ longer to get their heads round the idea that we as a community don’t have to roll over and let the media, the banks, the politicians and the rich elite make the decisions on how we live our lives. But people ARE seeing it, they ARE opposing it, people ARE fighting. This is not the end, it’s the beginning. If the NHS must be divided, if we must privatise everything, if people must lose their homes, if families must be separated, if the elderly must die of cold, if we must be financially raped by our banks...if people really must be brought to their very knees then SO BE IT! I will still fight, I will still be a mother and a member of my community...and I swear to him and to the people that I love that I will do everything in my power to make positive changes.
I will start here, on my sofa.
I wrote this as a stream of consciousness, these are my feelings at the moment...
Do with this what you will.