It’s not one of her uni days so Kellyann has agreed to come into the UCAN for a chat. Vanessa shows us to the small meeting room upstairs. “Will you be all right up here?” she asks, “it’s a bit chilly.”
Kellyann and I tell her we’ll be fine. I set off my tape recorder and hear that Kellyann has only lived in Breightmet for the last five years. She’s married to stay-at-home dad Paul and they have a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Now 28, she’s just started a three-year degree course in mental health nursing at Salford University, a 90-minute bus ride away.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been to uni,” she says. “After my A-levels I started an adult nursing course but it didn’t work out and within a year I was working at my local Asda.
After that I got a cleaning job at the Royal Bolton Hospital and, five years later, I’m still there.”
Kellyann is waiting for a bursary to come through – the NHS pays for her to study – but until it does she has no choice but to continue working.
“Bills need to be paid,” she says, pragmatically. “And it’s good for my children to learn that you need to get off your butt and contribute to society.”
This week she’s at university three days, last week it was five. “Depending on my studying, I pick the hours I work,” she says, “Usually I do every weekend and a couple of evenings in the week.”
“You’re on a zero hours contract?” She nods. “What if they say there’s no work for you this week? Do you have anything to fall back on?”
“No, nothing,” she says.
“How many hours do you work at the weekend?”
“I start at half past seven in the morning and the earliest I finish is two o’clock. Then I have housework, university work and I’ve got two kids that miss me. They’re not long hours but it’s still draining because I’m up at half past four.”
“Half past four?” There’s more astonishment in my voice than I had intended.
“Out by half five,” says Kellyann “and, because of the stupid times of buses in and out of town, it takes me two hours to get to work.” (I ask Vanessa later: it’s a fifteen minute drive from Breightmet to the Royal Bolton.)
“And then the next day you do the same? That’s hard work. And, if you don’t mind me asking, how much do you earn with the cleaning job?”
“On a Saturday it’s about nine or ten pounds an hour. On a Sunday, it’s nearer £13 an hour.”
“Things must be tough.”
“Today I’ve got nothing in my purse and won’t have until Friday. And every week is different. I get paid every fortnight so we call that ‘the good week’ and the following week, when I just get tax credits, we call that ‘the bad week’. Every fourth week, I get wages, tax credits and child benefit and so that’s when we try and do a big shop and get any extras. I’ve got to get the kids some winter boots soon.
“But we’re getting used to cutting back in our shopping. Things are getting harder. Gas and electric have gone through the roof. You have to consider everything. I don’t buy brands, you have to get the next best thing. You have to really watch what you’re doing.
“We’re struggling but there are some people on benefits who are already sorted for Christmas. I think it’s disgusting. The benefit system stinks. Some people can claim for one lot and the next person can’t. Paul’s looking for work but can’t claim anything because they say I’m paid too much.”
“What would you like to get for the kids if you had more money?”
Kellyann doesn’t need to think. “A holiday,” she says, straight off.
“When was the last time you had a holiday?”
She begins to cry. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s all right,” she says, putting a finger behind her glasses to wipe her eyes. “The last time Paul and I were away was our four-day honeymoon in the Lake District, eight years ago. The kids have never been away.”
Continued in “My kids are happy”