I’m hungry, cold and have multiple disabilities. Does Starmer’s promise of real change include me? | Marie

When Keir Starmer stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street as our new prime minister, he spoke of hope and of a promise that things will change for the better. But hope is in short supply in my household. At the age of 44, I have never been this skint, this hungry, this cold or this worried.

I am unable to work owing to multiple disabilities, and the past few months have been a very frightening time to be receiving benefits. While I understand people cheering the end of 14 years of the Conservatives, I am nervous that when Starmer promises change he is not thinking about people like me. In his victory speech he spoke of cleaners, builders, and nurses facing insecurity despite doing the right thing. I feel that insecurity every minute of every day, but simply cannot work because of my disabilities. That leaves me completely unable to make ends meet.

Personal independence payments (Pips) should cover the additional costs of my disabilities, such as a chiropractor to manage the pain of my fibromyalgia, or holistic therapy for my mental health. But the cost of living is so high they never stretch that far. The Conservative party even discussed replacing some of the support I receive with vouchers. This feels like a form of discrimination: it’s demoralising to be trusted only with vouchers rather than money. I am glad to see the back of the Tories, but it’s hard to feel excited about a Labour government when it has made no promises to invest in social security.

I know many say we have to be patient, and that change will come. But my kids face empty food cupboards on a weekly basis. We cannot wait for this change. It needs to come now. The political debate over this election has been focused on immigration and pledges to support “hard-working Britons” while people like me are left to scrabble to get by. What about people who are unwell and who can’t work? When we do feature in political debate, it’s only as a problem that needs fixing: cut our benefits, say the Conservatives; get us back to work says Labour.

Every day I wake up and try to think of ways to make ends meet. My situation is hopeless: I can’t afford a weekly shop from the supermarket and have now gone two weeks without buying my own shampoo and conditioner. Instead I’ve had to rely on charity. It wasn’t even much better when I was working; in my job as an administrator, I still had to go to the food bank. Levels of social security payment leave families like mine below the poverty line, and yet we still hear comments far too often that imply people choose a life on benefits. But no one would choose this life, my life, and I want this to change, so that families everywhere can have a hope of something better. Families like mine, where no one is in work, have lost an average of £5,500 a year since 2010.

And disabled people often face additional costs. My health conditions mean I need to use the washing machine and shower more often than most people – as is the case with many disabled people – so capping the price of energy bills would really help. The benefit cap must also go, and free school meals should be universal. This is not asking a lot – just for our basic needs to be met. Starmer said on the steps of Downing Street that the work of change will begin immediately. I truly hope so. But for me to have trust in him, he must listen to people like me and change our our failing social security system to make a better future possible for us all.

  • Marie (an alias) is a lone mother of three who lives in southern England. She takes part in Changing Realities, a coalition of parents and carers on a low-income, researchers at the University of York and Salford, and Child Poverty Action Group, working together for change

The Guardian

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