By Parent Campaigner Michelle for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
My name is Michelle, and I became involved with Save the Children earlier this year. I have always followed and supported Save the Children as it was a charity that was familiar to me, that I felt was trustworthy and would always put the right issues first. So when I was invited to meet other parents as a Parent Campaigner, I was really excited!
I never intended to become a single disabled parent, but that was the path my life took. First in my family to go to University, my parents hoped I would escape the poverty we went through. I began working in finance and met my partner, we rented a tiny flat in London and had reasonably well-paid work. Having both had families who struggled, we were determined to build a stable family. We dreamed of living in the countryside, buying a house, getting married, having children... and we succeeded. It was hard, but we made sacrifices.
I felt insulated from poverty then, but shortly before my daughter’s first birthday, my partner left for someone else. The day I became a single parent, life spiralled uncontrollably. Without an income or job at that time, my mental and physical health worsened. I felt back in an inescapable cycle, that life was out of control.
The idea that people can escape poverty relies on an assumption that work resolves things, yet 760,000 people claimed in-work benefits such as Universal Credit in 2019 and this year could be much higher. Work alone isn’t a solution to poverty, some cannot work, policy often isn’t well thought out (such as the 5 week wait for Universal credit with no money – very few working people can cope with that). Many people in poverty feel policymakers are out of touch with their lives as their experience is often limited to their bubble. It’s difficult to feel seen when policymakers believe the system is fair and straight forward - ministers talk of their pride over Universal credit and social mobility, yet fail to register there are still significant problems.
This is where being a Parent campaigner for Save The Children can make a great impact, not just on policy but empowering people. We meet weekly for an online chat and coffee in the same cosy way I do with my friends, and let off steam about our frustrations. We feel we are just chatting, yet our coordinator feeds back that these everyday tales actually have a massive impact! Sharing our stories, concerns for the present and future is not only cathartic, but gives a real history behind the statistics, a face to the policies, it raises questions some may not have considered. I’ve been humbled to meet some of the wisest, kindest and most selfless people I’ve ever met and having people who understand the situation helps our wellbeing, it is so important and validating. This is so different from the stigma we endure, how we are portrayed.
Save the Children’s platform releases our potential, opens the eyes of policy-makers to situations or snags they couldn’t foresee. Involving people living on benefits unlocks doors to discussions about what helps in the real world. Poverty isn’t planned, just something that happened in life and it can happen to anyone, regardless of position. When we end the stigma attached to needing support it frees people, they feel less alone. It encourages people to share common experiences and so build a less solitary path, a road successfully navigated together with collaboration, generosity and solidarity. We grow wings.
I’ve learned so much since engaging with Save the Children, not only about how policy is made and how to influence it, but about people and our similarities. There is satisfaction to be had from feeling part of a bigger purpose of ensuring people feel seen, to make sure children don’t miss out, improving life chances. What we do now is observed by our children, we set examples - I want to make mine as positive as it can be. I feel that I have gone from feeling powerless, to powerful.
We are always looking for parents to join us in sharing their experience of the benefit system. If you are interested in becoming a Parent Campaigner, please contact Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org.