My granny is 91. She was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and knew my grandad from the age of 4. When they were 13, he said he’d marry her one day. He joined the army and worked his way up to Sergeant Major. She stayed in Wakefield where she worked from being 14. When they eventually did get married, my granny went everywhere he was posted during his time. In her long life she’s lived in Germany, Edinburgh and Ireland, as well as various army bases around England. She now lives in Wakefield again and has done since the death of my grandad in 1976.
When she was 14 she got her first job, she says she worked “in every mill in Wakefield and more.” She even worked in a factory during the war packing gunpowder, where she got blown off her chair (don’t worry, she can laugh about it now). I spoke to her yesterday and she told me she’d ‘never not worked’ and at one point, even worked from 5am to 11pm, 6 days a week. In all the places she’s lived, she’s worked; ushering at theatres, working behind bars as a waitress, working in mills. She was never content with doing nothing all day, and still isn’t. At 91, she’s still active and rides an exercise bike almost every day.
My granny’s houses have varied. She’s lived in massive houses with more rooms than she could fill during her time as an army wife, and moved to a 3 bedroom semi-detached council house after grandad retired. She loved that house, but as she got older, the bills got bigger and rooms were becoming unused. She moved 6 years ago to a small council flat round the corner, to save herself some money and generally downsize.
The flat she lives in has a small front room, separate kitchen, small bathroom, and a bedroom with a spare room. Every month she gets £404 in Pension & £500 in Army Pension, giving her a total of £904 in the bank. She pays out £390 in rent, a maximum of £280 in bills, leaving her with £234 to live on.
£58.50 a week.
That’s before new glasses when she’s accidentally sat on them for the 5th time this year, and before new teeth (same reason), but most importantly that’s before food & clothing. She had some savings but she bought a new washing machine 3 years ago, and has been dipping in to it to pay bills every month. She has about £1000 left. Some weeks she can’t afford to go shopping more than once. Not to mention the fact she has 12 grandchildren, all of which have birthdays, and there’s Christmas, and her coffee mornings (which she never goes to any more).
All this maths doesn’t quite add up to £58.50 a week, every week. Her pensions come in at different times, sometimes her bills are less, sometimes they are more. Sometimes she can treat herself to Marks and Spencers cheese, sometimes she can’t. Either way, she’s worrying constantly about how much money she hasn’t got.
I read her the article ‘Iain Duncan Smith urges wealthy elderly to ‘hand back’ benefits.’ She said she agrees with helping people on a low wage, but why take it off the people that have worked hard all their lives? She branded it a ‘stupid idea’ and said a few swear words. Luckily she is unaffected by the bedroom tax, as she’s too old. She’s also lucky enough to get two pensions. If she didn’t have the army pension, she probably wouldn’t be around to swear when I tell her about Iain Duncan Smith and his grand ideas, because she’d be living off -£266 a month. Although she’d probably get housing benefit, which she isn’t entitled to at the moment, but it would still leave her at a pretty low figure.
“Hand it back? If I had more than a tenner left I might stand a chance.” she says. The really sad thing is, she’s right, she doesn’t stand a chance.