Good Company recently launched the second East Surrey Poverty Truth Commission (PTC), which brings together a group of 15 Community Commissioners with lived experience of using the Foodbank or Pantry and a group of 18 Civic & Business Commissioners from councils, housing associations, local health and education providers, businesses and charities. Over the course of the next 15 months, these two groups will work together to understand the issues affecting people in poverty and look for creative ways to address them. In this blog, Beverley, one of our Community Commissioners, shares her story and her hopes for the PTC.
My life started, coming from a broken war marriage. My Grandmother and father raised me – in the old-fashioned way to be hard working, truthful and a pleasant person.
My childhood and school life went well. My first job was at the Bank of England working in accounts. Then a succession of jobs until I joined a Mail Order Company where I was promoted to a buyer with buying power of millions. Travel in this country and abroad and a very good renumeration, giving me a comfortable lifestyle for the family. My husband looked after the house and our son, who was privately educated near home.
After 26 years with that company, even though my figures and profits were excellent, it was deemed I didn’t have the skills to go forward and I was sacked. What a shock!! But I was paid off well and opened a Linen shop in Bookham.
All went well and after 15 years I decided to close it. Unfortunately, my husband died unexpectedly 2 weeks before the last day of trading. The remaining stock became a problem; some was sold cheaply and lots given to a nearby charity.
I opened a Hairdressers with my son. This went well for many years – he cut hair and I did the accounts and wages. My son had a shoulder and knee problem and became unable to work. The staff were struggling so the salon had to close.
As my son lived above the salon, he had to move in with me and was claiming Universal Credit for two six-month periods. £317 a month is no money to try to live on in Surrey. I was well past retirement age and along with my pensions we were struggling with the bills and some debt.
After many months of hardship, we visited the Citizens Advice. It was frightening. It’s brave if you can put your head above the parapet and ask for help. We were introduced to the Foodbank. What good advice, they were such a good help to us and friendly. Every time I went to the Foodbank for the first two or three visits, I cried all the way home.
The involvement with the Poverty Truth Commission has given me a purpose. Personally, I am trying to generate something positive by being on the PTC, by sharing my journey and knowledge. Being a commissioner gives me something to do and not be cast aside as a “useless old lady”.
When I had my linen shop there was a chair by my desk and many people would just come in for a coffee or a chat. Even Sir Michael Caine popped in occasionally, as his wife shopped with me. What people need is social interaction.
By talking to other Commissioners, I have realised how family life has changed since I had my son. After-school activities are expensive and many families can’t afford lots of clubs. Even the free holiday activities for children are not co-ordinated across schools and many seem to miss out.
Our children are the world’s future and should be treated as such and encouraged to try their hands at all things. This cannot be done [if families have no spare money]. Heating and childcare are also so expensive; again a great hardship to their development.
The elderly need more consideration to expand their social lives and not be left to stagnate. I don’t know it all, but I have many thoughts and insights into hardship and social exclusion.
I had an almost luxury lifestyle with holidays, work, travel expenses, a company car and social outings. None of which I have now. I put too much emphasis on my working life and now have no social life to fall back on. I am taken shopping twice a week, and to the foodbank when needed by my son; who also has to manage my extensive doctor and hospital visits. He is working, but only on minimum wage. This all means our social life is non-existent. I have back and knee problems and don’t drive, a serious lung condition, diabetes and gout. All very restricting. But I am a very determined person and try my hardest to be upbeat.
I was a very well-paid busy business person. I had no idea of the impact of poverty and budgeting until my son had to close the salon, started to claim Universal Credit and moved back in with me. He is now virtually my carer.
Could the Civic and Business Commissioners be in a similar situation of having their eyes opened even more, as mine have been this past year? Can they possibly consider helping more, or their organisations making more provision – however small, to do more? I hope so.
Thank you for reading.