J.’s relationship with poverty is a complex and multi-layered one. Unlike some other individuals who are born into poverty-stricken households or experience financial disadvantages early in life, J. was born into a well-off family and lived a rather comfortable life early in his childhood. However, due to a change in circumstances between him and his family, J. eventually ended in care. While learning to cope with the drastic turn his life had taken at a young age, his understanding of poverty started to develop over the years: “Before I got into care, I used to live in a really good family where they could afford pretty much anything they wanted. And I took everything for granted” – J. shared – “But then when I got moved into care, because of reasons, I realized how different it is. Because I went from the top of the spectrum to the bottom.”
The challenging transition out of care combined with the effects of a global pandemic meant that J. found himself struggling to afford some of the basics he needed. Food is a basic human need, and yet during the lockdown J. reached the dangerous point where he had to go without food for days: “During Covid, some days I would go without eating. Because I had just run out and I didn’t have enough money to eat. It got to the point where I lost so much weight that it also became a health hazard as well.”
When you are living with the constant stress of not knowing if you will be able to put food on your table, something as normalised as going out for a meal becomes imaginable. Being deprived of such a basic form of socializing is an idea most people struggle to understand. J. explains: “Whenever I go out, I don’t buy anything. And I just get people looking at me saying, ‘why are you not getting a drink?’. It’s because, unlike like you, I can’t afford it. It’s like, what do I sacrifice, having a drink with my family, or do I not get food for a week and a half? So it brings a big dilemma for me as well, because I like going out sometimes. But because I can’t afford it, it ruins it for me.”
Searching for employment can be hard enough for care-experienced people as it is, but J.’s underlying mental health conditions – at least four of which have been formally diagnosed – have intensified his problems. Having lost his previous job as a result of the pandemic, J. explained how his mental health issues keep holding him back when it comes to securing a job: “It is just so unstable right now. Whenever I feel better, I go downhill. And then it’s like a rollercoaster – it goes up and down, and I can never get stable. And that’s the biggest reason I can’t hold a job.” J. went on to add that his mental health issues can get so bad to the point he cannot even get out of bed, or manage to leave the house for an interview or a meeting. As a result, J. lives with the constant concern of being sanctioned by Universal Credit, as they are known to reduce people’s payments when the fail to attend appointments – even if it is a result of their poor mental health. J. admits that seeking help from mental health specialists, as well as the support provided at Right Resolution CIC has been invaluable to him. Nonetheless, he also believes that the system’s apparent lack of understanding and awareness about hidden mental health issues is still a big struggle that spirals him into an unending loop of precarity. It is therefore clear that more needs to be done to address the challenges experienced by young care leavers with underlying mental health conditions.
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