Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Before benefits.

A program I'd never seen before caught my attention last night . It was the word "workhouse"
As a little girl I lived with my maternal grandparents in South Wales. After the war living with my parents in Lancashire I got to know my fathers parents. My grandma was always unwell and I often was left with her for an hour or so at the weekends.
Sometimes if it was the school holidays I stayed with her as she recovered from several strokes. I got used to brushing her hair, washing her, making her meals...I was around twelve.
One day after I'd settled her down for a sleep she grabbed my arm, "Don't let me go to the workhouse Jean" she said
"Please don't let me go to the workhouse" it became a familiar theme...mentioned at some point of every stay.
My father and grandfather explained .Her mother had been taken to the workhouse as a little girl and only got out when she was old enough to work. Her mother had ended her life in the work house and it had left my grandmother terrified of ending up the same way.
My grandad would sit and stroke her hair telling her she would never have to go....he would look after her.
After he'd died the terror doubled.
I didn't know what a workhouse was....in the years after the war they had all been turned into hospitals.
As a teenager though I found out about them and last nights program painted a stark but accurate picture. I was struck with an opening sentence...."This was what life was like before benefits"
If you couldn't work or support yourself the answer was the workhouse....babies were often born to unmarried mothers in harsh conditions.
My grannies terror was real and it was repeated right to the end of her life.
What ever we may think about the people who misuse the benefit system it has to be better than putting them in the workhouse.

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