WHAT IS POVERTY PREMIUM?
Poverty premium is the name used for the extra cost of essential products and services paid by the low household income families, disabled and benefit dependant people in the UK. I myself have suffered because of these unfair charges for essential things for me, my family or home. Examples of these are things like :
High cost credit
Area based insurance rates
Prepay energy meters
Convenience local shopping
Whilst living day to day many of you will be as naive as I was, not realising the reason for my struggle had a name! I just assumed that it was how everyone I knew or lived around me managed and coped. It was just accepted that these were our options and we used them.
Everyone I knew had a prepayment meter for their gas and electric in the cupboard in the hallway. The lady who came around for a cuppa each week and left with most of my family allowance was not in fact my saving grace, my angel, she was ripping me off left, right and centre. Her high interest doorstep loan was a godsend when I had no carpet and the settee was on its last legs. That was until I carried its burden daily, nightly, weekly and monthly. I followed in my mom’s footsteps and clothed us out of the catalogue. I thought this was the natural thing to do, a secret passed on from mother to daughter on how to look good when you’re skint!! That was until I learned I could have bought trainers for £35 in the shops not relying on the 20 weeks for £60 that the catalogue charged. Could I have bought them otherwise? Probably not. Direct debit, contents insurance, Christmas not done on tick were all for posh people. I had no problem standing in a queue at the post office, family allowance book in one hand, a giro in the other and my milk tokens tucked in my back pocket to trade with the little shop around the corner for 10 fags.
During that time did I have the state of mind, patience or confidence to hunt for better energy deals or switch tariffs every 12 months? No, not at all. A computer was something students used at college and uni not for shopping around for best deals. I knew that all insurance was expensive especially because of the areas we were housed in. If you got “robbed” then you could probably go and buy better stuff cheaper in the pub down the road!! What I’m trying to say it was our way of living.
I was luckier than most – my mom and dad would take me shopping in their car for my weekly shopping. Only the best of the best for my family it had to be Aldi and Farm foods, £35 in the first £15 in the second. My mates on the estate would either have to factor taxi fare into their shopping bill or live out of the corner shop costing them a fortune more than I ever paid. Our Friday night treat would be watching tv, praying that the tv licensing van wasn’t on the estate, because I’d just used the license money on chocolate for the kids. We would wrap up in our duvets and get comfy with our pillows snuggled up till bedtime. I never had the heart to tell them their snuggly fun time with mom had saved me from putting the heating on because we were already on the emergency.
Everyone used to live in fear of your washing machine or fridge-freezer breaking down or if it was your cooker you were really screwed. The social fund got dragged out and if you priced your claim in line with the Argos catalogue prices you were pretty much guaranteed to get it. Paying back that loan was never a problem because you only paid back what you borrowed with no added interest. When the letter arrived telling you how much you needed to pay a month which was usually about £20 you’d ring them up plead poverty and offer £5 a month and they would have to accept!!
Seriously though, 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, struggling on less than £16,000 a year. Some of them work, some are disabled, and some are benefit dependant, 4 million of that total are children. People go without bare basics such as food and heating to be able to cope with the rising cost of being poor. Its been identified that there are 29 different types of poverty premium, I’ve already mentioned but a few of them. The Big Society Capital, Barrow Cadbury, Equality Trust and many more are fighting on our behalf to eradicate these premiums targeting government, businesses, regulators and the wider public.
So, this thing I didn’t know existed but now has a name was a driver of mine and so many others in poverty, is now being called out. I know its name and its time is coming to the end because by eradicating poverty premium people can be safe in the knowledge that their choices are not but a few and voices are shouting loud about its unfairness. Why should being poor cost more?
CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONFERENCE.
I have been very fortunate to work within a movement called ‘Fair by Design’ with Barrow Cadbury, one of Birmingham Poverty Truth’s funders. Barrow Cadbury reached out to BPT asking for stories that could be used on their website and roadmap launch. These stories needed to include being in debt, using prepay meters for energy, doorstep loans, high cost credit, rent to buy and many other options of Poverty Premiums. I have had to use a lot of these services in my adult lifetime and certainly remember my parents having to use these avenues too.
I worked with the Fair by Design team to shape a bio and my story, also being photographed as well, yuk! I was excited to see the website and be able to fully understand the workings of the roadmap they’d produced. http://fairbydesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/FbD-Roadmap-Artwork-Web.pdf When it finally went live I had so many mixed feelings, embarrassment, excitement, hilarity and a certain sense of pride.
The launch was well received and then the Fair by Design dropped the bombshell that they wanted to use my story at the Conservative Party Conference. WHAT!!!! Yes, little old me was to become slightly famous. Well that’s what it felt like.
Rolling up to the ICC Birmingham surrounded by armed police and a check from the security that felt like I was at the airport was hugely daunting. Looking way braver than I felt I sat with 6 other people on the main speakers table front and centre of the room. I was sitting with an MP and a Lord as well as a newspaper reporter.
To say I was terrified would be an understatement! But I managed to deliver my story fluently, without mistake and with confidence. I was given a big round of applause, phew, my part over, but little did I realise that I had to stay at the front for another two hours!! Where do I look, where do I put my hands, how should I be sitting, what was the etiquette about elbows on the table?
As the speeches went on my story was being referred to more and more, I was gobsmacked! Finally, with the end in sight I started to breathe easier. Oh no…. Question time! Of course, the first question was fired at me. If you asked me today what the question was, I couldn’t tell you, but I remember fumbling my way through something about digital exclusion and isolation!! I must have said the right thing because there were a lot of nodding heads. When we were done, and I was on my way home I still felt starstruck. It’s an experience I will never forget. Even now I feel privileged that my story will be part of a movement that eventually will help millions of people.
Onwards and upwards is probably the term I’d use for the next instalment. To be continued……….
HOUSE OF COMMONS.
After my experience taking part in the Conservative Party Conference The Fair by Design team took me with them to an evidence session on “The role of consumer protection in poverty premiums.” What??? I hear you say. Well, I eventually learned that it was about getting businesses to “poverty proof” their product or service because a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. It also includes improving the regulators watching for and overruling bad practice, so the consumers are protected. The government becomes involved too by ruling on things like interest rates on high cost credit as we’ve seen in the October budget.
Oh, sorry I forgot to mention that all this was taking place at the House of Commons!!!! Thinking the conference was a big deal you can imagine I am at the point where my head is spinning! Still, coming back down to earth, I had to rewrite my story using examples of legislation, regulation and common sense that would have helped me in really difficult times. The examples I used were bringing back the social fund, subsidised travel for under 16s, low interest loans and rent to buy services and regulation on the cost of school uniform. Fair by Design was also looking to highlight how living like that affected me.
Well, if I thought I’d seen tough security before this was something else!! It really makes you realise how unsafe we are in today’s world. Even my crutches were taken off me and checked!! The House of Commons as you know is a very old building so not a lot of disabled friendly options, so many stairs. Winded and suffering a huge stitch we managed to reach the room we were going to and then I found out that I had to sit at the high table right next to the throne in the room, right next to the MP running the session. I was so glad that I’d already spoken in front of him at the Conservative Party Conference or my nerves would have been totally shot.
Finding my voice in a room with leather green chairs and solid wood pew-like tables all with the crown imprinted on them in gold was so surreal. Gathering my waning confidence, I delivered my story. I managed it with no faults or stuttering and was given a round of applause. What I still find strange is that these high up people value my input; they honestly want to know how I feel and what I think. They take notes, ask questions and call you brave. If they could see all that I go through in preparation for a gig like that they would laugh.
So finally, all talking done the main chairman MP asks me what I think needs to be done or put in place!!! My first thought was, “come visit Birmingham Poverty Truth you’ll find plenty of truth, ideas and solutions from our really great little family”.