Shrodinger’s Benefits


I’m in a financial rabbit hole at the moment, and have ended up in a rather odd chicken and egg situation.

For my previous adoption, I had savings in place (and support from my family) to cover a longer adoption leave period of 10 months. My organisation’s adoption leave pay is fairly generous, so I get 12 weeks/3 months at full pay, then 27 weeks (roughly 6 months) at 15% salary plus statutory maternity pay (SMP) which added together is about half my usual take-home or net pay. You can then take an additonal 3 month’s leave if you want to but there is no pay at all for the last 3 months (total of 12 months maternity/adoption leave you can take).

This time around I was very clear with the adoption team that as S is already at school, and I’ve recently bought a disaster house, there are no savings to spare, and I can only take 3 months adoption leave. At this point if my salary drops below it’s current amount I risk being unable to pay my mortgage and bills and obviously I’m not willing to do that. They have asked me to take longer (up to 7 months) which I am happy to do but only if they pay the difference in my salary. They indicated that was likely to be fine so we filled out a bunch of financial forms requesting the equivalent of half my take-home/net pay for 4 months to make up the difference.

Having filled in all the forms and sent them off, they’ve now come back to query why I’m not using Universal Credit (our national welfare benefits scheme) to make up the shortfall and have indicated that they probably won’t cover this as I could qualify for UC.

The problem with this is Universal Credit is notoriously hard to measure and predict. When I had my first daughter, I went through a bunch of different benefits calculators that said I would be eligible for quite significant amounts of money. However when it came to actually applying for it, I reached a brick wall (the Gov site at the time said I couldn’t apply for additional benefits while I was receiving Statutory Maternity Pay). I tried a bunch of times and eventually got tired and gave up.

So this time I ran the numbers again, based on having 2 children, and once again the benefits calculators say that I would be eligible for a significant amount, but I am extremely sceptical that this will materialise into actual money.

At my social worker’s request, I have submitted a claim now (based on my current full income and only 1 child) as the calculators tell me I could be receiving some support now, (though different calculators come up with different amounts – one said I am eligible for an additional £18 a week and I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle of claiming it as you have to keep on re-doing all the paperwork every 3 months to stay eligible). We’ll find out in approximately a month if that’s true or not (it takes a month or so to process new claims).

Regardless of what the calculator’s claim I should be entitled to, I have past experience of receiving fuck-all that I am pretty confident in. I am both theoretically eligible and actually ineligible for benefits, as it were. Hence, Shrodinger’s Benefits.

Now here’s the thing – when I start my maternity leave, for the first 12 weeks I will still be getting full pay, and therefore won’t need the top-up from either Social Services or Universal Credit (UC). But once the 4th month starts, I enter Shrodinger’s famous box and am both eligible and ineligible at the same time. UC won’t process a change in status until you have proof, i.e. a payslip. By the time I have a payslip stating my reduced income, they’ve already paid me half my salary and I’ve already missed a payment on my mortgage. UC notoriously takes weeks to process changes in status so I won’t know if I’ve actually got the amount I think I’m entitled to until it’s too late.

Social Services want to bank on me getting support through UC, but if I don’t get it, it’s too late. So I am trying to tell them that if we are relying on UC supposedly paying me half my salary, then I’m just going to have to go back to work after 12 weeks, as I am not risking missing a mortgage payment (I can technically take a mortgage holiday, and may need to do so but it’s the unknown factor that makes it so tricky. Plus taking a mortgage holiday will impact my credit rating making it harder when I try to re-mortgage next time). Social Services are adamant that they want me to stay on leave but without a way to prove I’ll deifnitely get the money in time, we are back at a chicken and egg dilemma.

As of now, at their request, I have run the numbers through the calculator (they are independent websites as the government oddly doesn’t have it’s own calculator to tell you what you would actually get!) and sure enough, the amount I apparenly qualify for would be enough to cover my shortfall in salary, but I remain wary of accepting this premise. If we do in fact find out on the 5th March (according to the email I received this is when my current application will get processed) that I will start receiving support, I might have a little more faith that it will work.

But for now, the chicken, egg and cat-in-a-box dilemma remains…

Added to all this is my ever-increasing sense of anxiety about the cost of living hikes. The Gov claim that inflation is something like 5.4% based on whatever archaic measurement they use, but Jack Monroe’s recent post shows that staple foods have gone up by over 100% in most supermarkets. Food is costing more and more by the day, and in April when our energy bills shoot up by 50% or so, as is predicted, while salaries remain broadly the same, everyone is going to feel the squeeze.

As a single parent who has recently decimated her savings and is about to have a second kid, all of these things worry me. It’s not like I haven’t been here before. When I first moved to Oxford I was earning almost half what I earn now, and had taken on my first mortgage. I remember a year or two of meticulously planning my budget supermarket shops, and pinching pennies as much as I could, though I didn’t have any kids then. I still ended up with fairly significant credit card debt which was a nightmare hole I couldn’t crawl out of without help. This time around I am determined not to get into a debt spiral, (I will never get another credit card again) although I admit I am considering a lot more of the interest-free “buy now, pay in installments” options for bigger ticket items (and I am still paying off my bloody front door!).

It’s clear that while 2020 and 2021 were hard because of Covid, 2022 is going to be harder in a different way, and I am lucky I have friends and family able to help me. I doubt I will ever need to access a food bank for example, though it’s scary how many people do need to these days. There are plenty of things I can cut down on (dear god not the wine!) and while on maternity leave I will have lots of time to plan meals in advance and plan my shopping to reduce costs on food. We have also had the heating on this winter a lot more than usual due to all the building works and doors left open so I’m planning to get more savvy about wearing jumpers and keeping the thermostat on eco mode more often (better for the environment too). I am also lucky that there are lots of hand-me-on facebook groups with plenty of free children’s shoes and clothes and uniform swaps. Thank god that most schools in recent years have adapted their uniform policies to allow parents to buy cheap equivalents from supermarkets instead of needing to buy branded expensive items they will instantly grow out of. With two kids starting new schools in September I am already trawling the online uniform swaps and secondhand stores to see if I can be prepared, though will need to wait until they get their school places confirmed before I buy anything.

There are lots of ways to be thrifty when you try, and to be fair I’ve not been all that thrifty the last couple of years. I’m hoping that I can use some of my time on adoption leave to look more closely at my budget and see where I can cut costs.

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