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Friday, 27 February 2015

What's the Point of University?

This is a question that I can't answer in the eyes of someone else, but I can answer for my own perspective.  If you are considering doing this, I would highly recommend it.  Not only have I got a degree, the whole experience has changed my life.  

I went to University late in life.  I had a terrible time in school, I was anxious, frightened of everything and even ended up on atni-depressants at the age of 14.  I had panic attacks, mood swings, and I also caught tonsilitus at least once per month, which would then spread into my blood stream and cause my legs and ankles to swell and bruise. 

At 16, I left school with a couple of qualifications but nothing worthwhile.  I did some AEB basic tests, CLAIT and IBT II when I was 15-16 as I worked within a small unit of people who tried to integrate people back into school.  I knew I had to do something. After school I went to college part time just to get my English GCSE.   

I started working in an office and I completed an NVQ level 2 in Business Administration.  I maintained administrative roles for over ten years and I completed several courses eventually leading to a level 3 NVQ, and then the opportunity to complete an assessing qualification and PTLLS, but I wanted more.  The problem was, although I had experience and felt confident in my work role, I felt less confident about my academic abilities and intelligence.  

Progressing in my administration role was a possibility at one point but I knew it wasn't what I wanted.  I pondered for a while on what to do, and I went on a short Creative Writing Course ran through a local University.  I decided that I wanted to do a challenging academic course that would see if I was clever enough for University and chose an access course in my local college that would give me the most options as I had no clue what to do.  I started that course and found that I was good at Sociology, History, Psychology, but my strongest subject was English.  I must admit I was surprised as I had always found Maths was my strong point.  

I applied for a full time degree in English and Creative Writing early in 2011, and got accepted.  I was thrilled and frightened - all these people, younger than me, probably brighter than me.  I had never been a people person, and found it challenging to make friends.  I didn't even know if my writing was good enough to be studying creative writing!

I had to talk myself into attending at first, and I would sit at the back whilst everyone else made friends.  Like a child I would wait for people to talk to me first.  I enjoyed the challenges, the topics, the assessments and I found the more I went, the more comfortable I felt in this world.  The Lecturer's inspired me (well at least most of them) and I wanted to be like them.  I had a child two weeks after starting, but that didn't stop me completing my studies as I loved it.  The first semester was difficult as I got used to University life, but in the second semester I found it easier to make friends and I must say that I have made several friends-for-life, and I am so pleased that these talented people know me, as so many have achieved so much.  I started to build confidence - I knew what I wanted, and I knew I was going to take it.  

Second year was the hardest year of my life.  The  jump in level and a child that didn't sleep made me feel like I was out of my depth, but I wanted this so I persevered.  University friends were very supportive, offering to read through my assignments and help, I couldn't ask for anything else.  

I knew in third year that I really had to step-up and put the time in, no time for slacking.  Even though this was the toughest year of my life in light of personal circumstances, I worked harder.  I got a 2:1 degree and I couldn't be happier!  A story of mine was also chosen to be printed in a collection of short stories published by lecturers of the University.

So for me, University gave me opportunities, a chance to make connections, to make friends, to be recognised as an academic, to have my work published.  It helped me to develop as a person and build confidence in my own ability.  I have formed strong friendship bonds and I am not afraid to talk to new people and introduce myself.  It turned me into a stronger person who knows what she wants.  

I thought that having a degree was just a dream, and yet when I achieved this, I knew that wasn't enough, I wasn't ready to leave as I had only just begun.  With the support of my mother, I have been able to sign up to the MA and I have just finished my first semester.  This is part time though so I have 18 months left.  This has brought further opportunities as the University has launched its own publishing house and I applied to be a voluntary member of the Copywriting Team, which actually lead to me becoming the Team Leader.  I feel like the sky is the limit for me!

Although I haven't decided my definitive career path I know I either want to lecture in English and maybe creative writing, or work in a writing, editing or publishing role, it doesn't matter because I have options.  University has given me the tools I need to become the person I want to be.  There's still work to be done but I'm getting there and I would certainly recommend a degree, and the University experience as a whole.

Friday, 13 February 2015

How you are discriminated against if you claim Tax Credits and become disabled?

I don't usually talk about issues like this, however I have become more aware of the benefits system over the last year with my husband getting ill.  After he lost his job in the March, we had to start living on around £71 per week for the first 13 weeks.  In the April I assumed as he got Epilepsy and was having seizures each day and could not work, we would get things like free school meals, and free medical treatment to help us out.  Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken.  

Bearing in mind that our children used to be in full time childcare because I worked part time and studied for a degree full time, whilst my husband worked full time - seven days a week usually as he would take any overtime.  We lost all that once there was only myself working.  My husband was having seizures every day, and I had no childcare - when I couldn't leave him alone with the kids.  My yougest was two and didn't have any childcare at all so the system made it impossible for me to work.  Luckily, I teach and assess, and I was able to work from home assessing online qualifications but I do have to travel to meetings and for training, but we managed to squeeze that in.  I did manage to contact my local authority and got a plfor my two year old for 15 hours each week and this was a god send.

I found this so strange, that if one of you became so ill you couldn't care for the children and the other had to work, then you couldn't claim childcare, what was that about?  If you become disabled, you have to be incapacitated for over six months and then it is possible to have childcare reinstated and it also means that if you are on a low income, you are also entitled to Working Tax Credit too - something I have never been entitled to, so in the first six months of becoming disabled and incapacitated, they make your life impossible by taking this away and if your a couple, it makes it harder for your partner to maintain their employment.  I wonder where the logic is here?   

When I reported our loss of income, Tax Credits still 'allow' you to earn £2500 extra - they don't count this as an income drop.  This put us at a huge disadvantage as I worked our new incomes more than half or our yearly earnings previously, at only £15000.  This should've meant that we were entitled to free school meals and free medical treatment due to this disregard of the £2500 as although our award notice said the correct amount, the system that links to the local authorities means that we were not entitled.  

I don't understand why we were forced to live in poverty.  We had to borrow money from my family to survive and rely on them for childcare.  We were lucky, what about people who aren't as lucky as we are?  

My husband is still ill and has even more health conditions, but we are determined he will get better.  I know and understand that there are some people on benefits that don't deserve it but in 13 years of being together, this was the only time we had to claim anything, apart from assistance towards childcare.  I do find it hard to comprehend that the benefit system seems to punish those who need it and when you have worked so hard, and are then treat like you don't deserve it, it's not fair.  I agree there are lots of arguments about benefits, and who gets or deserves them and I was always aware that there was problems within the system, but who makes it harder for someone to work by taking childcare help away.  This is about how people who have worked hard are punished because they get a medical condition or become disabled.  It's not people who have worked for many years and need a helping hand whilst in recovery that the DWP/HMRC should be concerned with! 

Do you have a good or bad experience of the benefits system?  Do you think that hard working families should be punished because one of them becomes disabled?  What about if this was a single parent who became ill - with no family support, how would they have survived?  

I have no idea who comes up with these idealistic benefit policies, but they want to try and look at some of the personal circumstances here and live through it!  

We survive, and we manage our money well.  I know we will get through it and that things will look up.  Health is the most important thing to us right now, and let's not forget that I have maintained working myself, even though it was made so difficult and we have kept our benefits to a minimum.  As my husband has been unemployed for over a year now, I can claim childcare if I need to, and I now get a small amount of Working Tax Credit.  We are living on a lot less, but I know there are people a lot more worse off than what we are.  

My aim was to bring attention to the fact that if you develop a disability, you do suffer discrimination from HMRC.  I hope that this is something neither you or I, will have to experience again!