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Must and Can and Can’t, and Other Stories

A morning with lots to think about, this one. I’m writing it down as a way of getting OUT, really, then I can get on with my afternoon which is mostly going to involve the large bag of cookie dough on my kitchen counter. I may not even bake it.

I had my regular job centre visit this morning.

We talked about my degree, and I talked about how important it is to me to pursue it through to the end, that I see it as the best way for me to develop my skills and stand me some chance of employment in the creative arts longer-term, either freelance or in community or teaching work. And we talked about next year, and the big milestone of when Kai turns five, when my income support will stop. I will need to find 16 hours paid work a week at that point, during Kai’s school hours and in addition to my degree studies,  in order to make all the numbers add up.

That’s fine, I’ve been prepared for that, daunting though that is given that even before 16 hours a week paid work is added in, it’s already a hefty enough challenge to find enough energy and stay well enough to manage looking after Kai, running the house, studying and practising my art, and trying to have some sort of social life (ha, I accidentally typed ‘sex life’ there – fecking hell, yes, that too!) I wish the benefit system saw higher part-time study like mine as a more valid and valuable use of single mums’ time while our children were little and supported us in it, but there we go. It doesn’t.

Next July I will be put onto JSA and the Job Centre will help me find 16 hours a week work. She reassured me today that it will also take into account my health restrictions – likely office work or similar. I have no qualifications, and being so ill for most of my early twenties before I had Kai hasn’t left me with much experience so I can’t expect much. Fair enough, and if that’s what I need to do to make ends meet, then of course I’ll do it, I’ll do anything. But ideally, and obviously, I’d prefer to be doing something I vaguely enjoy and have some talent for. We talked about my options for self-employment or remote working which would be ideal given that it would mean flexible enough working to work around Kai and the variability of my health day to day, but how hard it might be to find 16 hours regular work a week. I’m resourceful, though, have plenty of strong skills in art, writing, even photography, so using a combination of all those things to piece together an income is not beyond the realms of possibility.

I’ve got this next year to try and plan for all of that and to make the most of the extra time to myself I’ll have once Kai starts school in September. I intend to really push hard to get another year of my degree under my belt and see if I can make this tiny growing talent of mine grow a little more – I start painting which I’m hugely excited about given that there’s where I think my real forte lies. And I can begin to start putting the feelers out about self-employed opportunities that could make use of what I’m good at. Any money I earn from a few hours work at this point will have to be paid straight back to the government, but it might be worth it in the hope I can build up enough by next July to support myself when the benefits stop.

A lot to think about. An awful lot.

What threw me most this morning was that at the end of the interview she gently suggested it might be a good idea for me to apply for Disability Living Allowance again. I can understand why she did. I limped in a little looking tired and given my file is digitally heavy with my disability history and it’s part of her job to monitor my health, she felt it was important, and the reality is that I’ve deteriorated quite a bit this year. It would be a useful benefit to receive, might give me some extra money for buses etc to save me walking so much, but honestly, I’m not sure. Not sure I want to be sucked into that world again, or, in fact, if I’d even be seen as eligible.

The long, intrusive, forms are based on a system of assessing and proving what you CAN’T do. And I CAN walk and take care of myself, I’m not about to argue that I can’t. I have to! It’s a hard battle, and at the moment the reality is that it results in a scary amount of pain and fatigue, but because the system is based on ‘CAN’T do’ with little thought to ‘DOES REGARDLESS’ I doubt I’ll tick the right boxes.

Anyway. I think I’m going to hide the forms away for a while and hope things don’t get that desperate. I don’t want ‘can’t dos’ to be in my head right now, not with everything else I need to think about too.


(an old photo of mine reused, seemed appropriate today)





  1. I always read your posts Josie, because of the way you write, and I can think of a number of ways you could build up to 16 hours a week work writing. Let me know if you want a chat about it – are you going to Britmums? Antonia

    • Oh Antonia, you’re a star! Not at Britmums, unfortunately, but would definitely like a chat at some point. Thank you! x

  2. I totally agree with you about the full time study and single mums – it should definitely be encouraged!!

    I became a single mum 6 months into my Nursing Degree course. I had to work 16 hours a week throughout the course, to get the benefits that kept a roof over D and I’s heads. That’s on top of working 30 hours a week whilst on placement – and having a 3000 word essay to research and complete whilst on placement (at home though of course… not done during placement time). So during placements I worked 46 hours a week. Looking back now I can’t see how I managed it! But I have survived and qualified and now work as a nurse. I doubt if I’d been single Mum before the course I’d have applied… it was because I’d done 6 months already that kept me going… the thought of “those essays I worked so hard on for so many hours would’ve been for NO REASON!!” and thoughts of making a better life for D and I. They got me through to the other end of a very difficult time.

    I didn’t know you had health issues, despite following you on the Twitter, and looking at your blog. To be fair – I’ve not read blogs/blogged myself in about a year til I only just recently got back into it, but Twitter was always around.

    You seem very motivated though, and have your head screwed on to the battle ahead. GOOD FOR YOU I say!!! That’s awesome. You can do it for sure with this attitude.

    Can the people you spoke with help with the DLA form battle? I was told ages ago to apply for D as he’s got an ultra rare form of spina bifida, but I took one look at the form and went “FUCK THAT for a barrel of laughs!!!”. So I feel for you I really do… that form is for sure, a way to stop some applicants from bothering – thus reducing what they need to pay out. Yes they need the info, but the form is atrocious.

    Sending much kick ass thoughts your way for the future x

  3. It just strikes me as so unfair that you are having to struggle through all of this – I can understand a system having to have checks and balances but where people really need help and support why on earth aren’t my tax pennies helping to provide that

  4. Hi, I was in a similar situation to you a few years ago. I had done a year of a part-time BA in Fine Art after having my son. I then went full time after a year using the work I had done on the part time course to get a place on the full time course. A full time Fine Art degree or similar is also very flexible time wise for picking up children from school and you have access to student loans, childcare grants and you don’t have to worry about benefits. (and it’s loads of fun!) I think you should think about that!

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