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A day in the life of hard working people

Life on the edge is an endless grind, says BERNADETTE HORTON - whether or not you're in work. And all the poor-bashing at Tory Party conference doesn't help

Apologies for using the most overused phrase of any government in the title of this piece, but I want to show how life itself gets in the way of the best laid plans - and how government policies, banks and institutions serve to grind down us "hard-working people" to tip us over the precipice into poverty.

Husband and I are in the precarious position of being self-employed and low-paid as we have caring duties for our youngest son with autism to cope with.

We own our home, although of course technically the bank does as we have a mortgage gained in better days when work was more plentiful.

Yesterday was mortgage payment day. A cheque my husband received from working, and which he deposited into his business account on September 19 - 11 days beforehand - had not yet cleared in time to pay the mortgage. Cue frantic phone calls to the bank, who said the cheque "should" clear in the next few days.

Husband decided that was not good enough and so a face-to-face confrontation in the town branch was called for - as was myself getting on the phone regarding the mortgage to explain the circumstances and ask for a few days leeway.

My husband held the whole queue up in the bank while he took them to task about the cheque clearance. He was joined by another man with the same problem.

Luckily the bank that holds the mortgage was understanding and has given us until Friday to make the payment. Breathing space for a problem that should never have occurred.

Yet 90 minutes of wasted time to sort out. Due to austerity and having a family of six there are no longer even meagre savings to fall back on.

One setback with an uncleared cheque throws our entire lives into chaos.

It is frightening that one small detail can have such a significant impact on our lives. Our very roof depends on that cheque clearing in time.

The bank let us down. The very organisation that has let the whole world down. Privatisation at its nauseating worst.

We had a 90-minute frenetic panic and those awful thoughts - "what shall we do? Can we borrow the money from our parents if all else fails? What if the bank won't let us make the payment in a few days? Think, think..."

It's scary, David Cameron and George Osborne, living on the "hard-working edge." Continuously plotting family finances on the big wall planner in the kitchen a month in advance. It takes time and energy and it is damned draining.

I make no apology whatsoever that every so often we - and I know many other people either on jobseeker's allowance or tax credits do the same - have a "what the hell" moment, if only once in a blue moon.

By this I mean you get so weary plotting every bill payment, watching what you eat and what you wear, that the sheer daily grind gets you down and you blow a bill payment on a tea in Pizza Hut for the kids, a new pair of shoes, a new hair-do.

Then comes the guilt and the sheer worry of how to pay the bill you've just blown.

But hell, for those few minutes it felt good to have that one treat. It made you feel part of the human race.

Cameron and co would call it irresponsible but that's because they have never walked in my shoes for a month or six or 12.

A continuous daily grind. And we work. I have nothing but admiration for those seeking work and unable to find any.

This week if that cheque takes longer to clear will I be able to get to Friday with the school lunches? Or will I be begging grandparents for help?

On the first of the month our bills and direct debits are paid. I have budgeted for that money as I do every month, but the food shopping will have to wait until Friday when I receive my working tax credit payment.

My husband is beginning a new venture shortly to go alongside his DJ work so we can increase payment from self-employment if all goes smoothly.

But it depends on three other people. I hope they won't let him down.

And this week both my younger sons will come home with letters for the school France trip. Last year I let one son go to London for a theatre trip.

I will have to tell them that at a push, possibly one son can go on the France trip at a cost of £400 plus the spends and new clothes.

We cannot afford for both to go. Who do I disappoint?

Turn on the Tory Party conference on the TV. Huge slogans about hard-working people everywhere, inside and outside the venue.

George Osborne talking about crackdowns on jobseekers. Iain Duncan Smith in the Guardian talking about crackdowns on the sick and disabled.

It is hard not to be fearful when you are the ones experiencing the fallout from being one of the "hard-working people" - but the Tories do not mean you because you do not work hard enough. You claim tax credits. Therefore you are classed as another burden on Tory Big Society.

Husband is out today. Funnily enough looking for work.

Making the contacts, chasing up wedding venues, doing the things the self-employed do to keep the roof over their heads.

Yesterday's "strivers." But not allowed into the club of "hard-working people."

Bernadette Horton blogs at


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