This family is the real face of tax credits. How uncomfortable does that make you feel?

Once, we lived a life at the height of privilege - and then two major tragedies struck. Our lifeline could now be taken away at George Osborne's whim

Stephanie Nimmo
Tuesday 27 October 2015 17:19 GMT
A premature baby in intensive care
A premature baby in intensive care (Rex Features)

Tax credits. They certainly weren’t on my radar when the then Labour Government introduced them in 2003. My husband Andy and I both had successful careers, a nice house in the London suburbs, and we could afford to pay for a nanny to look after our two small children while we went out to work.

Fast forward to 2015. We have two more children and are currently dependent on a range of benefits just to keep our heads above water. Our youngest daughter Daisy was born prematurely and soon afterwards diagnosed with a rare, life-limiting genetic condition. As the weeks in hospital after her birth turned into months, it became obvious that a return to work was not going to be possible for me and we would have to rely on one income. We tightened our belts and managed - as well as any middle-income family caring for a child with complex disabilities (and the extra expense this brings) can manage.

Hospital appointments and admissions, endless meetings with various professionals and the never-ending form-filling, paperwork and phone calls became my full time job - and Andy, who was a self-employed management development consultant, had to reduce his working hours in order to be around for our other children.

Then, twelve months ago, the unimaginable happened. Andy became very ill very quickly and soon afterwards he was diagnosed with advanced, incurable bowel cancer. We were left with four children, one who is severely disabled, and a parent who was also very ill. Suddenly, we had no income.

The benefits system has become our lifeline. The intention of the tax credits system when it was launched was to lift families out of poverty, but in our case it has prevented us, through circumstance, from sinking into poverty. Savings and insurances were depleted long ago when our daughter was born. The proposed welfare reforms and the reduction in tax credits in order to "encourage people back into work” will negatively impact us even further.

It is not possible for Andy to work; he has been awarded the highest level of Personal Independence Payments as he contends with the disabling side effects of his intensive chemotherapy treatment. The stress of caring for a partner with cancer plus our children is immense and far more demanding than a full-time job, yet I still try to take on freelance projects in order to earn some extra cash.

The bottom line is that, despite it all, I still want to work – and so does Andy. He has a dream that, if his cancer can be stabilised for a while, he can take on some small freelance contracts again - but if the proposed changes to the tax credit system come into place eventually, we will be even worse off if and when he does that.

Welfare cuts have already impacted us as we care for our daughter; increasingly we have had to turn to the voluntary and charity sector for support and assistance in managing her care. I shudder to think what will happen if tax credits are further reduced.

Just like Andy and I, our parents and grandparents paid tax all their working lives. Our welfare system cushioned us when we fell, but now even that is in danger of being taken away from us.

Only a few years ago, my husband and I lived in a very different world; we probably had a very different perception of the type of person who would need to claim tax credits. We are now those people, the people who need this support in order to survive. We are the real face of who will lose out if Osborne gets his way. Remember that.

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