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Karl, Man of Kent 2018: The Poverty Trap

Karl is born in a county, Kent, where maternity services are stretched. In fact, maternity units were being closed the year he was born and as his mum didn’t drive and his father wasn’t about, when she went into Labour she called an ambulance. Because the local ambulance trust was a ‘requiring improvement’ service by the main inspection measures it didn’t arrive for an hour, missing the target for an active Labour emergency. Karl was born in the car park of William Harvey Hospital, Ashford.

Karl was the 3rd child in his family, but because of the fact that there is no now no increase in change to benefits after the 2nd child, the family really struggled financially after Karl was born and when the family had to migrate to Universal Credit there were weeks where the family’s income was so limited that Karl’s parents really struggled to put hot meals on the table each night. They turned off the gas heating and bought electric heaters, but only for the kid’s rooms for two hours a day. Karl’s parents turned to a food bank for the first (and not the last time).

Six years later Karl’s dad lost his job after the firm he worked for restructured and because the family couldn’t pay their private landlord, they were made homeless. They presented to the council as homeless, as East Kent Housing found them some temporary accommodation 30 miles away in Sittingbourne. A shortage of social housing meant they were told they could be in this temporary housing for years. Karl, his brother and his sister had to move schools. The disruption to their routines and distance from previously established support networks and friends meant that the kids fell further behind at school. Karl decided at aged 7 that he wasn’t very clever. Everyone else seemed to tell him so too. His brother had even more trouble as he had a new diagnosis of autism, but despite his ECHP there wasn’t a suitable school place for him as the specialist school units in the county were full or closing down. Karl’s brother got two hours tuition a day at home, but after four months this was reduced to an hour a day. As it happened, he waited for a full-time school place for 2 years.

The temporary accommodation the family was placed in had rising damp and mould that kept coming back no matter what the family did. The council said it was because the family kept drying their clothes on radiators. Karl’s asthma seemed to be worse in winter months the more time he spent in that house. He took more days off sick when his asthma was really bad; this meant his mum couldn’t really look for a part-time job to support the family income as Karl needed extra care as well as his older brother being mostly as home. Karl and his mum can’t count the number of hours they’ve spent waiting in A&E.

In Year 6, Karl failed the Kent Test. Karl’s parents were originally from London so couldn’t believe when they first moved to Kent that this outmoded education model was still going on here; they thought all that had been stopped in the 70s! Never mind everyone said to Karl, the school you end up at will best suit your pattern of learning. It didn’t matter what anyone said, Karl still felt like he’d failed something. It was a horrible feeling for a 10-year-old to have. Karl went to bed with butterflies in his tummy for months. Sometimes, as an adult he wakes up and still has that feeling.

At secondary school, Karl knew he wasn’t good at learning. He’d moved so much that he’d never really settled and now a test had put a stamp on his ability. He got a few GCSEs, but his school had recently trimmed down the curriculum and offered fewer subjects. Karl would have loved to take music, but the year before his GCSEs, it stopped offering music. The local MP boasted about an increase in his area’s results in key subject areas.

Privately headteachers said that of course results in a few subjects would increase if there was nothing else funding would stretch to teach. Karl’s one friend, Matt was suspended from school along wish 12 others, two months before he sat his GCSEs for minor offences – that way his (and the others’) results wouldn’t affect the school’s league table position.

Karl didn’t work for a year after school, but then he got a job in a shop when he was 19. The shop couldn’t guarantee which hours Karl would work each week as it depended on business, so they put him on a 0 hours contact, which was a nightmare with his benefits as they kept having to be recalculated, paid back or they wouldn’t cover the bare essentials. Karl was still living with his mum and dad, but things were tough at home as Karl’s mum had been waiting well over 60 days to see a Cancer specialist after a GP referral. The long wait, some of the longest in the whole country, was making things really anxious and nervy at home.

Karl knows he will never earn enough to save for a deposit. He will never have a mortgage. He earns less when you tot up hours worked than £14,000 a year. He has to take whatever hours are offered, so is unlikely to have the flexibility or money to go back to study. Karl’s mum is sick, Karl’s dad is tired. Karl’s brother never got any qualifications and is still at home; repeated PIP assessments have deemed him suitable for work and denied further benefits. Karl’s sister wants to be a nurse but can’t afford to train.

Karl had a nice girlfriend though and they are expecting a baby boy. They want to call him Friedrich, Fred for short. There are local elections next year. The family probably won’t vote, after all politicians are all the same and nothing ever changes, right?

Posted on November 9th 2018

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