I love life’s little luxuries – a bottle of Moet, my M&S trench, cigarettes and a wee scotch dram (Picture: Erica Crompton)
It was midday and I was yet to get dressed.
An outraged user had seen someone say women should have their bank statements checked for ‘frivolous spending’ before being allowed access to baby formula at a food bank.
In response, another person wrote: ‘Shouldn’t be getting benefits etc if you can afford to have things [sic]’.
I regularly grimace at similar posts that promote myths about benefits claimants – but this one stood out.
Especially so because, even though I am on benefits, I can afford to do nice things.
I love life’s little luxuries – Moet (£40), my M&S trench (£149), cigarettes (£13 a day) and a wee scotch dram (£29) are just some of the things I’ve spent my benefits on in recent months.
But the reply to the X post made me doubt myself. I felt a sense of guilt for spending money on myself and nice treats.
For this last decade however I’ve only taken on part-time work – roughly 16 hours per week (Picture: Erica Crompton)
‘Do people really expect me to live in poverty?’, I asked myself while I stared at the reply. ‘Will my income be axed soon if I carry on spending?’
I also thought, ‘if someone who works can’t afford Moet, why should I?’
I get disability benefits as I live with and have learned to manage a condition called schizoaffective for the last two decades.
The main symptom I’ve had is psychosis, which means I lose touch with reality – for example, I get delusions and feel like Britain’s most wanted criminal. I believe the police are spying on me in my home, and that the world wants me dead.
One time I even thought everyone could fly and was keeping it a secret from me. It sounds bizarre, but it is terrifying to live with these beliefs and in the past, they’ve led to suicide attempts.
The first decade living with psychosis was spent paying taxes in full-time work, struggling to find time to manage my illness, relapsing, then getting fired or resigning. The whole process took around six months at a time – then, rinse and repeat.
A vet bill will see me struggle to pay bills one month (Picture: Erica Crompton)
And then I got financial assistance in the form of benefits, which has made my life so much easier today, with fewer relapses.
I don’t have to put my life on hold for weeks for a hospitalisation.
I’m not distressed daily because I can’t get through to the crisis line for a mental health crisis, or find my sleeping pills.
I’m not accidentally overdosing on sleeping pills because I’ve not been able to get any rest for days – this saves the time and misery of visiting (and waiting) in A&E.
For this last decade however I’ve only taken on part-time work – roughly 16 hours per week – and have seen a marked improvement in the number of relapses I have.
My psychiatrist has always been an advocate of people with schizoaffective ‘taking it easy’ and I can see why; the difference it has made to my life has been enormous.
These days, the real impacts from my illness are the side effects of the anti-psychotics I take. They make me dehydrated so I can easily get through three litres of Aldi cola every day.
And I’m often tired. I go to bed at 6pm and wake at 6am feeling exhausted. If I started working full-time I doubt I’d do anything else other than sleep.
It’s a lazy assumption to make, to assume that just because my main income is disability benefits, I have to be poor (Picture: Erica Crompton)
Unable to commit to a permanent job, I work part-time. But this doesn’t fully cover rent and bills, so benefits are necessary for staying afloat both mentally and financially.
With my psychiatrist’s help and through advocating for myself, I’ve been very lucky to put in successful claims for Universal Credit and PIP – a disability benefit you can claim both working and not working.
These benefits total £1,100 a month and include £338 to cover my rent. Thanks to this, I’m often able to afford small luxuries that help me feel good.
It’s a lazy assumption to make, to assume that just because my main income is disability benefits, I have to be poor. I live within my means (about £16K a year in total).
I’ve always been good with money since I worked full-time but didn’t earn much (my first job in London paid just £11.5Kpa). Over the years, I’ve learned to pay-off my debts and keep a track of my finances by checking outgoings and incomings daily.
Erica’s tips for saving money
I only buy real cigarettes on occasion and roll-my-own day-to-day which saves £200 a month
Working holidays save me on food and accommodation. I spend £20 for a subscription to WWOOF and find farms for a week or more break – you farm six hours, five days a week, in exchange for all food and free accommodation.
Most of my clothes are secondhand from eBay and I also sell old clothes to save a little cash.
I tend to stay home with my partner on Fridays and Saturdays and just buy a nice 75ml bottle of whiskey for £24, which saves money on bars and pubs and taxis home.
When we do go out, we go to the local working men’s club in Silverdale – pints are just £3.50,.
For birthdays and Christmas I always ask mum and dad for cash rather than gifts.
I don’t own a TV and read books instead which saves £159 every year on TV license fees.
I buy 50 blank postcards for 99p each year and write my own poems on them for people’s birthdays, which saves on birthday cards.
Of course, not everyone claiming benefits will have a healthy bank balance (£844 as it stands) like me. Many aren’t able to work at all – and many have children.
I’m aware I’m only a punctured condom away from the poverty line without having many responsibilities or other mouths to feed or bodies to clothe. Plus, my writing part-time makes up around £300 a month.
Without all these circumstances, I would struggle.
I live in a part-owned council bungalow and was able to buy my share from money saved while working and on selling the previous properties I lived in. So my rent gets paid and it doesn’t take up too much of my Universal Credit – especially since rent in North Staffordshire is so cheap.
But, while I can’t afford to live in a nice area, I do enjoy visiting UK coastal resorts. My boyfriend, Paul, and I stay with friends Dan and Coz in their holiday homes for three nights, about twice a year in Devon, Cornwall and Norfolk.
A bottle of Moet is a treat we save for birthdays and our anniversary.
My luxuries – designer perfumes, weekend breaks, nice clothes – all help promote my wellbeing. It feels nice to look and smell good, have my fancy meals out, and trips away.
It’s a nice treat, given the struggles I experience with my mental illness – especially when managing this with monthly hospital appointments and daily sedative medications.
Why shouldn’t disabled people unable to work be able to enjoy nice things? Does living with a severe mental illness mean I have to be excluded from society, as well as full-time work?
I understand workers often struggle to meet bills with so much tax taken from wages but I still pay VAT on every item I’ve ever bought.
My benefits lifestyle has cost me friendships from people who would rather not be associated with a benefits claimant. Ex-boyfriends have called me a ‘loser’.
And there are comments and memes from plenty of people on X and Facebook who make it known that they don’t like their tax going towards people like me.
I do understand, I worked once and used to feel exactly the same. It angered me when I met people on benefits. I remember working long hours, on top of a long commute, as a radio script writer – when I’d return home tired, the out-of-work neighbours were up all night raving.
But when my schizoaffective led me to hospital after a suicide attempt, I knew I couldn’t work again at the cost of my health – I wouldn’t put friends and family through that again.
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Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
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Just because I get benefits doesn’t mean I have to be poor.
A reality for many of us is that we get by on a whim and a prayer like those who work do. A vet bill will see me struggle to pay bills one month, and then I might get a cold months winter payment – a £10 payment from DWP when temperatures drop below freezing that helps with heating bills another month.
My life has been an absolute struggle, and I fight the monster of schizoaffective daily. Keeping sane is a full-time job for me, like any other job.
Disabled people like me, who receive benefits are no less deserving of nice things than anyone else. If only workers and benefits claimants like me could put our differences aside and focus on holding those in power to account instead.
Don’t question vulnerable people like me on Twitter who are powerless to make changes to what you see as an injustice, question your MP about where your tax is going, and why the richest nom-doms hardly pay any – the world could be a better place.
And that really would be a reason to crack open the Moet.
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I love life’s little luxuries – Moet (£40), my M&S trench (£149) cigarettes (£13 a day) are just some of the things I’ve spent my benefits on.