An Inescapable Shadow – Holly’s Story

For Holly (a non-binary disabled person), poverty is like a shadow that has been stalking them since they were a child – an in-escapable shadow. “It means suffering”, they explained. “It means having to ask for help, for food, from charitable organisations which I never thought I’d have to do. It means missing out on things like having a social life. Poverty places barriers in the way of me being able to reasonably participate in society and that’s damaging”.

Holly grew up in a one parent family in Blackpool, and from a very young age they have known poverty. Holly described how a normal weekly ritual was to go around  the neighbourhood to ask for newspapers and wood for kindling, to be able to make a small fire to warm up the living room during the colder months. A small roast chicken on Sunday had to last Holly, their Mother and younger brother until Wednesday evening. As Holly became older, they began to realise how different their life was from those of their friends. Describing how painful this was: “I remember one day going to my Mum and saying ‘Mum, are we poor?’ I remember the look on her face, she was devastated. She was so devastated. She paused and then replied; ‘No, we’re comfortable’. Well, apparently ‘comfortable’ meant, you know… being in abject poverty with my Mum unable to provide fully for her family.”

In addition to the complex challenges of poverty, Holly also suffered from childhood cancer and has become more disabled as they have aged. As a result, Holly has not been able to work and feels “stuck” living on disability benefits which fail to meet their basic needs. Holly recognised there is support to help disabled people get into work, but it is not personally suitable as it requires physical abilities and levels of energy that they lack.  Holly therefore believes workplaces and society as a whole need to become friendlier and more accessible to disabled people, to avoid discrimination and social alienation. “I know there’s legislation in place, but a lot of the time the law isn’t followed. Thing is, if I was discriminated against, according to the Equality Act 2010, yeah that’s illegal but the only recourse is to personally take the discriminating body, to court. When I can’t meet my daily costs of living, how am I supposed to also meet the costs of taking someone to court?”. “I don’t want a pay-out”, Holly continued – “I want the thing fixed. But I can’t even approach the process because of how the legislation is set up. It’s there in name only, but not in action.”

Holly moved to Northampton more than a decade ago, and have met some nice people that bring them food each week. However, Holly does not have family or a strong network in England, and therefore ends up going to the council for support.

Holly finds the process of getting council support slow and difficult, with many hoops to jump through. They also find that the local council’s website is hard to navigate: “There’s a lot of dead links – they’ll just lead you around in loops that go nowhere. It says something like ‘If you need support with this, click here or click there’. And then it’s either a dead-link or it brings me right back to the same page I’ve come from. So it’s like… Is this on purpose? It’s so stressful and really harms my mental health. Sometimes I can’t help but feel like this is on purpose, that they’re doing this because it’s cheaper. If you can’t ask the council for help, then that way they don’t have to actually give anyone help.”

Holly concludes there needs to be a much stronger and more robust initiative to help people – especially those who are vulnerable. “I don’t want to get into more debt just to try to survive, I only want enough money to be able to live a dignified and equitable life. I just want my vulnerable status to be acknowledged by the state, by the local government and for additional support to be put in place so I’m not suffering needlessly all the time, so my needs are met. Sadly now due to the cost of living crisis many people are living in poverty, missing meals, sat in cold dark homes over winter… I have lived like that my whole life and it seems things are only getting worse. More support needs to be given to those most vulnerable and that support needs to be easily accessible”.