Pauline had been working continuously for 13 years as project worker with homeless young people. During this time she purchased her local authority home from the council. Then she was made redundant. Pauline spent the next 3 years applying for dozens of other jobs to no avail, though she managed to earn a little money in a self-employed capacity.
Though she had been able to manage her finances while she was working her debt escalated and became unmanageable post-redundancy. As the debt accumulated, new debt was created, and she struggled to pay what she owed and to pay for her day-to-day essentials.
‘There’s been quite a few times towards the end of the month that I’ve had to borrow money off my mother in order to get the petrol to get to work. Wednesdays, the day before tax credit days, we really are sort of pulling the scraps together to eat. Basically (her teenage son) he’s six feet two and he eats like a horse, so yeah, it’s been hand to mouth, it’s been completely hand to mouth. There hasn’t been any new clothes bought… we’ve been improvising’.
After three years of unemployment with no success in finding a job and with the self-employed work having dried up, Pauline accepted a six-month temporary contract job in Sheffield in September 2012. She took her 16 year old son with her but had to leave her 15 year old daughter behind with her parents in order to finish school. As Pauline's contract was only for six months, she could not take her daughter with her and risk upsetting her education if she had to come back after the six months were up. At this time, Pauline owned the ex-council house and had a new rental property and so was paying both rent in the new place and her mortgage in the old. She tried to sell the house to pay off her considerable and mounting debts, but it did not sell for a further two years.
‘(her son) is constantly asking for stuff and I constantly have to remind him how skint we are, despite the fact that he knows it because there’s nowt in the fridge. He gets quite frustrated by it… they’ve obviously been worried, you know what I mean? With bailiffs coming to the door and, yeah, it’s just been very stressful’.
Pauline had been unaware of the constant anxiety she has been living with until she experienced the following incident: ‘I was working from home one day and it was (her son’s) birthday and the postman knocked at the door, a massive rap at the door, and I jumped out of my skin and it took me about five minutes sidling along the side of the corridors, because I haven’t got a little peep-hole or anything, trying to work out who it was. He knocked a second time and I could hear him going down the steps and I had a little peep and saw it was the postman and I said “no no no, I’m here sorry, I was in the shower” or whatever. Most of the time I just don’t think about it (anxiety). There’s a low level stress there that I’m not really that aware of because I’ve gotten so used to it over the past few years’.
Pauline thinks that she has become used to a constant low level of anxiety: ‘In April (last year), I started suffering from migraines and I’ve never had a migraine in my life. And it was completely debilitating, completely debilitating, I would rather go through childbirth than go through migraines. But they happened and… Apparently that’s quite common that you get them, it’s the stress relief that brings it on’.
Pauline has accessed services in relation to her debt: ‘I phoned up a debt advice place... You do a trawl of the Internet and you have to put your details in. You get inundated with these people offering you these semi-bankruptcies’.
Pauline then received advice from her mortgage provider who knew that she was in trouble with her mortgage. ‘They advised me of a non-profit one (debt advice agency). So, I phoned them up, but even then I put off doing it, but he gave me lots of advice about bailiffs at the time that I phoned them up but that was before they actually arrived at the door. I was only being threatened with them at the time. After that, no, it was all just off the Internet (advice)’.
Pauline thinks that the major dearth of service that she experienced was the lack of support in relation to her benefits. She said that having to speak to people on the phone or online was really troublesome. And not been able to go into an office and speak to someone was also problematic.
‘Gaps in the benefits provision. Complications … The reliance on having to phone up or do stuff online and not just be able to go in and speak to somebody. The benefit system, was a major major major (problem)’.
‘It’s a dreadful… I would have been at a food bank three year ago. It took them nine weeks to sort out my claim’.
‘There is a shame, because you’re constantly, constantly making excuses for why you can’t do stuff, and constantly borrowing off my mother all the time. Dreading phoning her up, because thinking, you know she must think, God the only time I phone her up… That’s been a good thing, being able to phone my parents up and have a bit craic with them without asking for money at the end of it (laughs)’.
Pauline’s escalating financial problems were caused by easy access credit when she was working for 13 years and then the debt escalation and accumulation post-redundancy. Three years of unemployment caused her huge damage in debt. She was behind on her mortgage, all utilities, telephone, mobile, insurances, loans and credit cards to the tune of £70,000.