As young care leavers, Adam and Tobias recently agreed to share their stories and discuss how poverty is still a major obstacle to having a normal, comfortable life.
At the most basic level, Adam and Tobias believe that poverty is a condition marked by the inability to meet a person’s basic needs and pay for the essentials – such as food, electric, bills, water, or gas. But for Tobias, poverty is not just the extremes of lacking the money to provide the necessities of life. For them, poverty can also extend to the not-so extremes of only having money to buy the things you need to survive, and not actually the things that will make you happy. “Life is too short to only have enough money to buy the things that you need to survive” – Tobias explains – “How are you meant to go to college, go to work, go anywhere? And… have fun! But you can’t afford it. What’s the point in living, if all we are doing is surviving? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the happiness?”.
Although it is often maintained that employment is the simplest route out of poverty, Adam and Tobias expressed how the reality of working people in poverty is much more complex. In other words, being employed does not guarantee a good quality of life. Tobias expressed that, with hyperinflation and all charges going up, the amount vulnerable people are paid is often only enough to pay for their rent. Because of this, they then struggle to buy food – let alone any treats or activities they can get any fulfilment from.
Adam further expressed how he was stuck in a job where he was being taken advantage of. Quitting a job can be a particularly challenging experience for a person living in financial vulnerability, but it is more so when faced with Universal Credit’s tough sanctions for leaving a job: “They (his employers) treated me like hell for seven months, and I didn’t want it. So I quit my job, gone back to Universal Credit, and they’ve now reduced my payments because of it”, Adam explained. As a result of standing up for his work rights, Universal Credit’s sanctions will be pushing Adam into an even more precarious situation – which seems to be discouraging for people in exploitative jobs trying to look after their wellbeing.
It is not only through their own eyes that Adam and Tobias have witnessed the impact poverty has on young people’s lives, but also through the experiences of their loved ones. For instance, Adam shared how his partner is a living example of how young carers are being disproportionately pushed into poverty by a system that fails to meet their needs. Adam’s partner is a young carer for their family, and barely gets any money for their work as they have to look after their parents: “They’re getting nothing basically a month. Oh yeah – an extra £60. That’s going to do…. what, exactly? Is it going to help get the extra meals in? What is it really to do?”. Although Adam recognised that the extra money is always useful, it is not helping in a situation where the expenses are significantly higher than the money coming in. It is for this reason that he believes there is an urgent need to increase benefits and allowances, so that vulnerable care leavers can escape the uphill battle that is living in poverty.
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