Guest Post by Panda Paws
In a recent Christmas special of “Call the Midwife” they covered the tragic story of Mrs Jenkins.
They actually toned it down from the full story in the book - it was too heart-breaking for broadcast.
Mrs Jenkins had six children when her husband died early in the last century.
There was no welfare state so she took the eldest, a girl of ten, out of school to look after the younger ones whilst she worked. The oldest and she took in sewing to eke out their income.
Then an industrial injury to her arm, for which there was no compensation, r meant that she lost the job.
The sewing didn’t bring in enough money to support them. She was evicted having already sold her teeth and her hair for money. She turned to the parish for help but the trustees told her she was “workshy” and denied her any help.
They had nothing and when the youngest, still not even a toddler died, she found a box and committed his body to the Thames river.
Eventually as the health of her starving children failed, she was forced to do
something she dreaded. The family turned up at the workhouse (more usually called "poorhouse" in Scotoland). As they waited in the reception room she hugged them knowing, as they didn’t, that they would be separated. She never saw any of them again.
She was released from the workhouse when it closed down decades later, her mind shattered.
You see not one of the five remaining children lived, the last to die was the eldest.
She wasn’t allowed to see the bodies or attend the funerals.
In the fifties, the midwifes and nuns had seen her around, but didn’t know her story. She loved babies you see, but the mothers didn’t like this old, dirty, shambling figure around them and shooed her away.
She walked funny because her toenails had grown to over 12 inches long.
When the nurses came to tend her, they had to cut the boots off. They bathed her, sent her to a specialist to cut her nails (which remain
today in a London museum) and gave her second hand clothing. She tried to refuse it: “that’s too good for the likes of me, you keep it”.
She couldn’t believe that she could see a doctor for free; the NHS was a miracle, the money from the new welfare state a Godsend.
On Wednesday 8th, George Osbourne will announce his second Budget this year and the first solo Tory budget since 1996.
He is the heir to a baronetcy, privately educated and due to inherit millions from a wallpaper firm (Osbourne & Little, if you want to avoid it!) jointly founded by his father. Although he has never worked for the firm, his shares have earned him a tidy sum.
He’s already slashed the benefits of the disabled and unemployed. It’s been announced he’s found £12 billion of “savings” which if the leaks are right will affect the working poor. It’s also been leaked that he will raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million.
As the announcements are made, my thoughts will be with Mrs Jenkins, a woman who, like my late mother, knew life both before and after the Welfare State and how brutal it could be. I suspect, unless Scotland becomes independent, that a Tory voting England will ensure that I also discover what life without a State safety net is like.
Addendum: Guys, I know I usually try to write with some humour, but watching what I suspect to be the dismantling of the social security system is more of a crying than a laughing matter.