State housing in Lower Hutt. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Image

I’m a single mum living in poverty

What is it like to be a mother living in poverty? Carissa Allen shares her story.

Poverty does not care what colour your skin is, what your background is or how educated you are. Poverty does not discriminate and is often a result of circumstances, not choices.

I am an educated, well-presented woman, I have a Bachelor’s Degree, and I have contemplated doing my Masters on several occasions, I have numerous other qualifications and I have applied for so many jobs that I have lost count. I want to work but I am struggling to find full time employment. I have not chosen the life of poverty, in a way it has chosen me. I am a victim of my circumstances.

I have been a single parent for 10 years. During this time I have cared for a sick child, studied for my degree, and worked. A year ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that has completely changed my life. I had to give up the job that I loved and I found myself on a sickness benefit struggling to make ends meet.

There was nothing I could do.

I was too sick to work and I knew that once I was well enough to work I would need to do something different as my condition puts limitations on what I can do.

Poverty has affected every aspect of my life. I cannot afford to do the things I would like to do with my family or to eat or wear the things I would like. Poverty affects a person’s ability to make their own choices. I am restricted by my lack of funds and have to make choices based upon the most pressing need.

It is a vicious cycle. To have the petrol to attend job interviews something else must be sacrificed; usually the first thing is food, or at least quality food. Not having access to quality nutritious food then impacts my heath, which impacts my job interviews. The stresses of not having enough money and not getting jobs also begins to affect my health, sapping my energy to apply for jobs and attend interviews. The more stress I’m under, the sicker I get; the sicker I get, the less capable I am of working full time.

I have been in a situation where on payday – after my bills were paid but before I had done food shopping or brought anything else – I had $3 left in my account. It is impossible to get ahead and feels like I am on a mouse wheel that I can never escape no matter how hard I try.

I want to work, I need to work.

Poverty alienates people from their friends. You can’t go out for coffee, lunch, movies, dinner, drinks, and so many other social activities because you can’t afford to. People often offer to lend me the money for social activities but I know I will not be able to pay them back. I have found that when you say you have “no money” people do not believe that this literally means you have NO money. Comments like “everyone has $20” don’t help and that further isolates you. If you don’t have $20 you definitely can’t find $100 or $200 for that girls weekend or night out. You can begin to feel like a burden on your social circle if they are constantly choosing to do things that don’t cost, or offering to pay for you so you can be involved in the things that they want to do.

It is not good for a person’s mental health but there is no easy answer, no escape from the stress. The light at the end of the tunnel seems to fade in to the distance until it seems completely out of reach.

Nobody chooses to be sick, especially with something incurable. When you have already had your world blown apart by your diagnosis, and then you have the added stresses of living in poverty, it makes every day harder. When getting up in the morning is already a huge struggle, I see why people can see no way out and resort to drastic solutions.

Life does begin to feel like it is pointless and your self-worth diminishes. It is hard to find happiness and joy in your situation and it is easy to spiral downwards.

I find myself looking at everyday people and wondering what their situation is, because I know that people would not necessarily look at me and see a person in poverty, just as they would not see my illness or my disabilities. How many people are facing a silent struggle, not knowing who to turn to or what to do next, struggling to pay bills and to have any sort of a meaningful life?

I am lucky for the friends and family that I have and the support they are to me. I am one of the lucky ones but it is still so hard. How much more difficult is it for those around us who do not have a good support network and friends to lift them up and make them laugh?

From my own situation, I can see that poverty is more widespread than I ever thought and I can truthfully say that this is not a life I have chosen for myself; I did not choose to be a single parent and I did not choose my illness.

Getting out of this situation is not as easy as people think – trust me, I’m trying.

Carissa Allen is a mother of  one boy and one cat, living with the cows in Morrinsville. She’s seeking full time work and dabbling in a bit of content writing.

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