Melanie’s Story

 Not being able to do what most people can

Poverty and living in an abusive relationship are situations nobody wants to find themselves in – especially a mother with young children to look after. Having escaped the cycle of poverty and a coercive marriage, Melanie spoke about her story and some of the struggles she faced while in poverty.

For Melanie, poverty is a constant struggle that wears you down – something that hampers your ability to do the things that most people do without even thinking. Having to skip meals to put food on the table for her family, worrying about whether she could pay her rent, or having to tell her children that having only candles was a “game” (just because they could not afford the cost of heating and lighting) are just some of the struggles Melanie grappled with as she was raising her kids. Furthermore, Melanie explained that the emotional strain of poverty can still hunt you down and have lasting effects on your mental health later in life: “When your children are adults, they realise that it was because you didn’t have any money. And then they ask you why, and you feel you’ve let them down in some way… you know, either because you’ve stayed in that situation rather than leaving, or because you feel that you should have done better. So you always remember and you always struggle, even when you’re better off to never be in that position again”.

Melanie feels it can be difficult for some to understand the full impact and desperation that poverty causes, particularly when those people don’t have a good support system. It is for this reason that she gets frustrated at the belief that poverty is a choice: “I get angry when people assume that just because you are not academically oriented or have missed out on opportunities for either education or gaining better work – that that’s your own fault”. While she understands these negative attitudes and feelings towards poverty are ingrained in society, she believes it is necessary to fight that stigma and spread awareness on the lasting impact caused by poverty: “I don’t begrudge anybody not having been through it.  What I begrudge is them not having the compassion, or the ability to try and understand what it would be like”.

In hindsight, Melanie believes that the main reason she was in poverty was because of her naivety, her lack of education, and more specifically, being with her ex-husband: “When you are in a coercive situation, not only do they control the money. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it means that, particularly when they have addictions like he did (alcohol and eventually drugs), the money goes on that, not on your daily living. Because generally, a person who is controlling, violent, all of those things – the person they care about most is themselves, even when you have children. So the resources go on them first, and then whatever is left is spread among the rest.”

But when it comes to an abusive relationship, it is never as easy as “just leaving” – especially when there are children involved. Vulnerable individuals living in controlling marriages often lack the resources they need to break free from the violence. It was only after her children were reaching adulthood that Melanie was able to leave her abusive partner with the assistance of the local authority, who rehoused her into a new house and a safer environment.

Melanie is currently pursuing a doctorate degree, and she shared that furthering her education has played a significant role in breaking down the barriers that were keeping her in poverty. As she explained, education has not only allowed better access to work opportunities and a higher income, but it has also equipped her with the skills to research and identify appropriate support if she ever were to go through a similar situation in the future.

It is for this reason that Melanie believes that access to high-quality education can be an effective remedy to many of the issues that keep people vulnerable to the cycle of poverty. In other words, she believes the focus should be on empowering vulnerable individuals with the skills they need to not only escape poverty, but also thrive in life: “I’ve got friends who have been in this situation, and just lending them a tenner here and there doesn’t help. You have to point them in the direction of things that can help them build a ladder, almost, to be able to climb out of the hole”, Melanie explained. “Just throwing stuff in every now and again doesn’t help. It’s handing down and helping them out.”