A lovely day at the benefit office

This post originally appeared on an anon blog. Something I have since decided to share, as my small part in breaking the stigma around single mothers on a benefit.

This week has had so many highlights, I’m not sure what to choose. I think I would like to zone in on 9am Monday morning. I was in at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) offices, to apply for a benefit to support me and Ms12, both of whom live with chronic illness.

I had left Ms12 at home sick, again. Home from the private school that caters to her learning difficulties and other needs ($269 per week*). I had been wondering lately (as I ran to an interview for a job I am pretty sure I can’t show up to, on a salary I was on 20 years ago) if it was legal to leave her it home. I foolishly asked the nice lady at MSD – who said 14.

I also need to say they really are nicer than their reputation there at MSD. Well, sort of; one was a *bit* passive-aggressively nice. But aren’t we all and she had an unhinged, potentially violent client abusing her colleagues in the background.

I have recently checked the law and MSD were right and wrong – as long as I leave Ms12 with “reasonable provisions for her care” all is well. A turkey sandwich, an iPad, and a packet of cigarettes should do it? A friend was left from not long after pre-school with a thermos of rice. I digress and that is not-my-fodder-for-another-anon-blog.

So there I was my normally uber active mind, on overdrive, so much so it was hard to speak. FYI when I do speak I sound mad enough on a good day.

This day,

my word,

I was feeling deep shame for being there. I was hearing myself trying to justify, trying to set myself apart from those beneficiaries, trying to avoid the ladies passive-aggressive ‘another fucking idiot’ I hate this job – tone. Slipping as soon and *naturally* as I could that I was putting the final edits on the PhD, So-I-Was. Bashing myself up for being that arsehole that was beneficiary bashing (even if just in my mind) as I sat waiting for a benefit, with my diamonds and briefcase in hand.

I have always hated and wanted to ‘defend all’ when I hear middle-class types spitting the word “beneficiary” out. Doing so in a way, that makes you feel, if you leaned a bit close, you would notice they actually said “beneficiary-scum”, and your face would be a bit wet. So there I was, spitting in my own face at 9am on a miserable Monday.

In shame, I look across behind me to the next desk. I just about need some binoculars as they sure do give distance between desks in this joint. That is a nice touch. Still, clearly at the next desk, I see, of all people, my pharmacist. I am not the only highly-educated woman over 40 at the MSD office on Monday morning. I bash myself a little harder for feeling better. What has this poor woman done for me to want her to be there?

I left their cheerful dirty-red walled office and dash next door to the bank and asked for three months bank statements ‘with a stamp and signature just the way the ministry need it’. Oh if I could have canned that smile, that smile that no-one ever wants to be on the receiving end of. That smile that says “Oh yes, I know oh poor you, oh I’m not judging you”, which is lies and we both know, that we both know it.

I left, picked up the property press with my head up and crossed the road to a diamond seller to ask what the diamonds in my ears were worth. I forgot to mention I had made one other stop on the way (to purchased the cheapest broom I could find). So I entered the diamond resellers holding a purple plastic broom and long handled shovel combo (not bad at $5.90). It would take a novel to explain all the feelings in that one. Of course, I have a bit of flair and humour so I point at my broom and say “I always bring my plastic broom diamond shopping”. I got that polite non-giggle and sense of when will you and Mr Broom be leaving?

Turns out it costs $95 to know what diamonds are worth and in this island on the edge of the planet were I live, nowhere other than online to sell diamonds. I plan to keep wearing them. They were especially dazzling today as I wandered the supermarket isles looking for discounts and cheap wine (those dam beneficiaries buying drugs and booze while their children starve) braless and barefoot.

Happy Days.

*Update not long after writing this that wonderful school put her on a Scholarship which was a game-changer for us and her future and I am forever in their debt.

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