BBC SOUTH EAST HAVE BEEN MAKING A FILM TO HIGHLIGHT WASPI WOMEN’S STORY.
“The authorities decided that it was ok for someone in their mid 60s to live in her car. I was deemed not to be a priority as I owed nothing, and I had not been asked to leave my home. Had I been receiving my State Pension, as per my plans made many years before, none of this would be happening.”
Monica was forced to live in her car through falling into poverty as a result of not receiving her state pension when she expected to. She kindly agreed to share her story with us to help raise public awareness of the desperate problems we are experiencing. Here is her full story:
Thoughts of a Fallen 1950s Woman
Where did all those years go? What happened to the hopes and dreams I had for my family and myself? Whatever happened to the financial plans I made in good faith all those years ago? Where has my faith in those that govern us disappeared to? Why do I feel uncared for and of little value to those deemed to be in authority? Why did I work full time, study 3 nights a week (completing assignments during the night), look after a young family and go to work each day on 3-4 hours sleep? What was the point? Why do I feel invisible now? Why do I feel like I have been left to find a spot on the rubbish heap and call it my new home? Why do I feel discarded and ignored, or worse, forgotten about?
You want to know the real reason? It is because I am one of many women born in the 1950s and who successive governments have tried to erase from history by writing us off. Any governing body writes us off at their peril. The sisterhood is strong and is becoming stronger by the day. We will never go away, and all our sisters who have lost their fight along the way, through stress and various illnesses made much worse by (and often because of) the struggle, their spirit and determination flies with us on this journey. You under estimate this decade at your peril, and history books will document this for generations to come.
As a single parent for over 10 years, and life was not exactly easy for a period before that time, I still believed that hard work and determination would always see the family through. I struggled like many before and no doubt others will in the future too; it is the circle of life. I had the experience of losing my first partner to cancer at the age of 28, something which shook me to the core. An experience that no one can prepare you for and one which I thought I could never recover, but as some of us know, you do recover and you find a way to carry on. The memory never goes away, but the pain becomes bearable.
Years later, I did meet my second partner and went on to have a family, but along the way, suffering a very distressing miscarriage. Once again, I remained stoic and carried on, and gave my all to my employer and really should have taken more care of ‘me’ rather than be worried about not pulling my weight in the workplace. I continued to rise through the ranks, and somehow managed to provide the nature and nurturing environment for my children to grow and thrive. Now they are successful, bright, ambitious articulate women and I feel proud. Owned property since the age of 23. I believed that I was working towards an early retirement and a comfortable lifestyle. Where did it all go wrong?
In my case it was relationship breakdown, the struggles of single parenthood, the daily balancing of priorities, whilst at the same time, trying to maintain a stable home environment and a learning and loving hub for my children, and keep a close knit unit together. The struggle was really hard on occasions but I kept going with the goal that ultimately in my older years I would be able to have some leisure time. I focussed on the here and now, and in my solitary periods, imagined what it would be like in my older years.
By the time the youngest went off to university, I was planning my route to early retirement at 55 years of age. I moved away from friends and family to start a new life where I knew one couple. Little did I know that a legal process would commence that would take four years to complete, during which time I was liable for my house in my home town and all the associated bills, e.g., Mortgage, utility, council tax etc, as well as those things on my rental property in my new county. I defy anyone to maintain two properties for so many years, on a pension, and not reach destitution. Somehow I managed to keep afloat by doing a series of agency jobs, to supplement my work pension. I was in my mid 50s and had no interest from employers to any applications I made for vacancies on or near a level I had been working at for many years. I ended up working for around a third of my previous earnings, but at least I had the luck compared to many of being able to supplement those earnings with a small work pension. It all changed when I turned 60.
All kinds of reasons were given for the removal of agency staff from the employer in question at the time but it was noticeable the age groups involved. I was naïve enough to believe that if nothing else, I would be again be able to secure some kind of employment, albeit low paid. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a 13 month period, I applied for 51 posts. About a third I never heard from at all, and I was interviewed for approximately a third. None successful. The usual nonsense given as reasons, e.g., you are over qualified, you will be bored in this role etc etc etc.
Running parallel to this was the long drawn out court proceedings relating to the former family home. In summary, judgement was finally made, but despite receiving funds, by the time 4 years of household debts were cleared (mainly on the void property but some late payments on the rental became the norm at the time each month), all monies owed were cleared but my credit file had fallen through the floor – something that would continue to thwart my efforts to make a life for myself in retirement.
Whilst working in a variety of agency jobs, I was able to live a reasonable life. Next to no savings and thoughts of buying a nice little property gradually downgraded in terms of specifications, until it was clear that staying in my rental of a few years was going to be a struggle in the future. Buying even a garden shed would be difficult. Travelling to interviews became difficult. Two of them I had to turn down because I had no way of getting there. I declared my car SORN because I could not afford to keep it going. I kept the insurance going on it, just in case anything happened to it, such as theft from my driveway, but everything else ceased. I walked several miles each week, to interviews, or just to keep my body mobile, but over time, the body may have been able to do it, but the spirit was becoming weak. What was the point of putting myself through all this? I live in a rural area, so there are not many jobs at the best of times, so for me as an ‘outsider’ and a woman of mature years, I was fighting a losing battle. I am sure that this state of mind was abundantly clear in some of the interviews towards the end, before I decided to stop hitting my head against that particular brick wall.
Having flagged up my concerns with various providers that I felt I was living with a ticking time bomb, and at some point, the whole thing would come crashing down. Most of them did not even have the manners to acknowledge my communications, let alone offer advice or assistance. At this point I was living on less than £150 per month to pay all bills and buy food, after rent and council tax was paid. Who can live on that? Never having claimed a benefit in my life, I assumed I could at least get funds to help with travel to interviews. Wrong. I did not qualify. The reason given was that my work pension amount, excluded me from receiving any help, for anything. I was stuck with my income of under £150 to pay everything. I tried 4 agencies just to see if this was indeed correct, and it was. I contacted the local authority again, who advised to find somewhere cheaper to rent and make use of Food Banks. Mmmmm I will keep this polite, but there is so much I could say to that.
Struggled on for 18 months. No change in circumstances. I found myself withdrawing socially from everything. I bored myself with my repetitive story of looking for work, or attending interviews and not getting the job etc. In the end, I did not even mention I was applying for anything. It got to a stage, where some days I did not leave my bed other than for necessity as I felt there was no point. Every month I had days without even basic meals, and some days I stayed in bed to keep warm. I could see no end. I eventually gave Notice on my property because there was absolutely no point in continuing the struggle, as there was not even a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Rejection after rejection takes it toll, and I could see no point in playing the role of the grey haired hamster running around in a wheel just making up the entertainment numbers for many interview panels. I stopped going out completely and if on occasion I met any friends, I avoided conversation about anything to do with financial circumstances I was lucky that I had a wonderful couple who were landlords of my property, and who went above and beyond to try and find help for me, and I did receive some assistance from one organisation as a direct result of the intervention of the landlord, but no regular, temporary or part time work materialised. I used funds at the end of my notice to pay for removal and storage of my things, and filled my car with items to keep me warm at night, and basic provisions. I had my car put back on the road, and my new mobile home was born.
The authorities decided that it was ok for someone in their mid 60s to live in her car. I was deemed not to be a priority as I owed nothing, and I had not been asked to leave my home. Had I been receiving my State Pension, as per my plans made many years before, none of this would be happening. I may not have been living rent or mortgage free, but I would not be in poverty. What I was being asked to live on for a month, was well under the weekly amount I would have received in my State Pension. I was being penalised for paying for/preparing to enhance my retirement. It was not a freebie, and I considered myself lucky that I had been able to do that. I look back now, and can see very little benefit of that approach.
So, having spent the best part of a month living in my car, and spending the odd night sofa surfing, I finally came clean with one friend (who had not been known to me when I first moved here, so was not one of the many who helped me settle, so I felt less guilty in mentioning my circumstances) who offered me the use of a property that was being renovated. It had just had its rewire done, and contained running water, washing machine, bed and microwave. The couple worked on the property as and when they had free time, so were more than happy to see it occupied for a while. Compared to my car this was luxury, and I will be forever grateful.
I would like to say that all the established official avenues that exist for people in crisis, were an absolute waste of time. The voluntary sector were outstanding. I have been lucky enough to secure accommodation, and I am currently fighting my way through the minefield that is otherwise known as tenancy application forms. Simple things like you have no alternative telephone number other than your mobile, throws their electronic systems out. Printing of documentation that is requested as standard, proof of various things, such as bank statements. Hard to get them to understand, that these days most people use electronic banking, and therefore do not receive paper statements every month. I also have my things in storage, so I cannot just wander along to the storage company, ask them to retrieve my unit, and expect me to clamber around and up on top of other boxes in the hope of finding said pieces of paper . All of these organisations try to sell you products that will cost you money and make them add to their profits. It does make you wonder about their understanding of financial struggle. I did have to say to the local authority, which part of my vehicle did they believe I kept my mobile office! So, almost there, but not quite. Hopefully common sense will prevail, and I will indeed receive my keys in two weeks.
I have tried to ensure that I have not wasted my time whilst hibernating at home these last few months or so. I have written a book, and it is selling well. I touch upon some of my experiences and the emotions that surround those events, but more importantly, I have impact statements from women who are also struggling (both here and abroad) and it is a stark reminder, that what is happening to 1950s women is a grave injustice, and if we do not challenge it, which group will be targeted next? This assault on the vulnerable is bordering on illegal activity in some areas, and definitely immoral. It is forcing us to live under the floorboards of society. The community that is growing daily that occupy an existence from the crumbs of what is deemed normal society is becoming a very strong power base. No developed country should create conditions that make vulnerable people fall through, or worse, be pushed through the cracks to fall hidden from view. Our voice is loud and it is determined. The fight back is coming. I will never forgive or forget what it has been like to sleep on various A road parking bays at night, or the lack of basic facilities as a result. Sitting in supermarket car parks in order to use the free wi fi to try and respond to the countless communications from companies trying to get you to part with your limited funds, even though they know you are homeless. The industry that has grown many times over in the realm of debt collection is a sad snapshot of any civilised/developed nation. The risks ‘out there’ are real, and I will continue to carry the emotional scars from that experience for the rest of my life. More than anything, the stark lack of sense of urgency from the organisations and public bodies who officially are there at points of crisis, and who lack the experience, understanding, empathy or competence to move away from the checklist of conditions and use basic common sense and humanity, is an indelible stain on our country. You come away from most interactions like something from under their shoes. Time for a major overhaul of some of these key public services.
1950s women grow stronger with every barrier placed before us. A major storm is brewing. Just watch. I will never forgive feeling like discarded rubbish. I will never forgive for feeling of miniscule value. I will never forgive for my options in life being reduced to such matters as whether I can go without food for up to 3 days each month. I will never forgive for being made to feel like there is no point in leaving my home for days on end, or even putting a brush through my hair. I will never forgive for my downward spiral into life beneath the floorboards of society, and knowing that on so many levels, I and others were pushed through the cracks, and in other aspects, we just fell through from sheer exhaustion.
Despite all that, I refuse to be a victim, and like the Phoenix, I will rise. 1950s women will rise. I may not fly high as I would like, but I will definitely be above the ashes. I will end this snapshot of recent events, in the words from a poem of one of my favourite authors, Maya Angelou,
“Still I’ll Rise”.
Just like moons and like suns
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops
Weakened by my soulful cries.
You may shoot me with your words
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness
But still, like air,
Have you or someone you know been affected by the state pension injustice? Please ask them to contact us by sending a pm to this page. We still want more women to come forward and share their stories so that our government cannot ignore what has been done to 1950s women.
Have YOU asked YOUR families and friends to join our campaign yet? They are also affected by our pension losses so why not get them to join and support us? Will their pensions be safe if we lose this battle?