The story so far….

Fairer Scotland

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Since June last year the Fairer Scotland conversation has been going strong throughout the country. People have had their say on how they perceive Scotland to be fairer and what has to change to help us all achieve that goal. We encourage people to continue this conversation during this difficult time following the EU Referendum.

On the 14 March 2016 we published ‘Creating a Fairer Scotland, What Matters to You, Summary Report’. The aim of this report is to provide a snapshot of the key issues raised during the discussions. It does not represent a national or representative view.

Our next step is to publish an Fairer Scotland Action Plan during summer 2016. More of this to follow soon.

A New Future for Social Security in Scotland

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On the same day we published the summary report we also published ‘Creating A Fairer Scotland: A New Future for Social Security in Scotland’. This is the first look at how Scotland will build a new Social Security system for the people of Scotland and to ensure that at the heart of it all is to be fair and treats everyone with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

The safety net or the spider’s web?

Hello Fairer Scotland! My name is Dane Thomson and I’m delighted to have been asked to write a guest blog for you today. My blog is going to be a no holds barred account of my short term experience of life on ‘benefits’.

First – the back story. I’ve worked hard since I was 14. I’m from Fife originally but moved through to Musselburgh to study at university. Despite a tough couple of years emotionally, I stuck in and succeeded in getting my 2:1 degree.

Fast forward to today. I’m now nearly 27. After securing a couple of very rewarding internships and making some great contacts, I’ve found myself unemployed.

Unfortunately, this is the case for so many other graduates.

So why am I writing and what do I have to say?
I’m going to be honest, before recently attending the Support in Mind Scotland Members’ meeting on the 30th October, I’d never really reflected on a Fairer Scotland.

Of course, I’ve always believed in treating people kindly (no less than the manner I’d like to be treated) and I’ve always gone about my daily business with that in mind. I have made an active point of being there for my loved ones.

However, having been unemployed for the first time in my teen/adult life this year, and having to make the pride shattering move to signing on at the job centre, it has really highlighted to me – first hand – how unfair the ‘system’ really is. For us all.

We need to travel beyond rhetoric:

“aye, this is terrible so it is” / *shakes head*

I see this on a daily basis on Twitter, mainly from political parties.

When it comes to ‘benefits’, we need to turn this all around and work hard to create the Fairer Scotland we all require. In any case – ‘benefits’?? Shouldn’t that be ‘social security’?

I don’t see any benefits to ‘benefits’. I’m skint, and I’m struggling.

Now, before I move any further – yes – I’m eternally grateful that there is a ‘system’ there which acts as a safety net for those in need.

But is this really a safety net designed to help you?

Graduation picture of Dane Thomson
In my experience the ‘benefits‘ system isn’t a safety net – it’s more akin to a spider’s web, which traps and binds you.
I’m going to call it out, and say that in my experience, it’s more akin to a spider’s web, which traps and binds you.

I have felt its hard grip around my neck on a number of occasions, in trying to better myself, in working hard to get myself out the financial mess I’m in just now.

Why a spider’s web?
I’m not trying to be overly negative. This is real life. Consider this:

1/ I’ve been driving myself hard to find a job. I approached the job centre for help. I badly needed shoes to go to an interview, as my own were in bits and over-worn. It was a graduate job interview and I wanted to make the best impression.

So, I went into the job centre so excited and proud of myself for securing the interview, only to be met with a very rude, snippy clerk who remarked patronisingly “and does this job have any prospects”. She then walked off, started talking about me to her colleague, before dismissively spitting “see the welfare fund”.

I stood, stunned, trying to reiterate that the head of marketing had called me personally for the interview – and that I was in need.

I came out in floods of tears, crushed if I’m being honest. My upset only increased when offers came flooding in from my friends to buy me shoes. Their kindness touched me, but embarrassed me, as I don’t like having to rely on anyone else.

2/ Another example. My payment was delayed for five days due to paper work processing etc. Five days. When you’re signing on, this is a life time. Detrimental effects? Try struggling to eat for 5 days!

During this delay, I was then signposted to the saviour that is the ‘welfare fund’. Only, they turned me away because I had £3.09 in my bank account – instead of 0.00!

How far would £3.09 have got me? Not very far!

The examples above highlight some of the steps I’d taken to get myself out of my current unemployed situation – securing an interview and scrutinising all forms of help available.

Only to be crushed and humiliated by an unpleasant clerk who treated me – by way of default – like a ‘sponger’.

I’ve paid tax and NI all my adult working life – surely £12.99 for a new pair of shoes for an interview was hardly a huge ask? It took all my courage to ask for this help. Soul destroying stuff.

Just to be clear, I’m not just sitting back and making comments about the ‘system’ whilst doing nothing to better myself.

I spend hours searching and applying for jobs, with each application tailored. I pluck up the courage and sign up for networking events with people I don’t know in a bid to get myself out there. I’ve made my job hunt public through creating my own employment campaign Employ Daney – opening myself up to criticism.

Employ Daney was all organic. The idea came from me. The hours of promotional content comes from me.

So, when I consider available support in order to find myself a job in the ‘grad’ real world, this does not come from the job centre.

It comes from a don’t give up attitude – and the support of my loved ones, who remind me every-day why I should never give up.

What three positives can I take from this experience?

  • I have learned to budget better than I’ve ever done before. You have to! There’s no choice! But I can say that I’ve learned a good couple of tricks to save money
  • By keeping my loved ones close at times like this, I’ve managed get by – even if it’s just a friend treating me to lunch. I honestly don’t know where I’d have been without my family and friends, and I’m eternally grateful to them
  • Whilst I’ve always had healthy respect for job seekers, I now have new found empathy and respect. I have been there. I have walked in their busted shoes.
    What does a Fairer Scotland look like to me?

  • People are helped in their time of need, instead of facing ridicule
  • People are listened to, really listened to – without pre-judgements. We should never assume anything
  • Our Government takes action on their promises to empower the poorer residents of our nation. It’s the same story, the rich are getting richer, and the poorer are getting poorer.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post on the Fairer Scotland blog. I feel very privileged to have been asked to take part.


Other websites
Website, Support in Mind Scotland
Support in Mind Scotland seek to support and empower all those affected by mental illness, including family members, carers and supporters

Website, Employ Daney

Website, Dane Thomson’s blog

Uniformly unfair

A personal story from Caroline Kennedy (commissioner, Poverty Truth Commission).

Sending my sons back to school after the summer break was very stressful. In short, I wasn’t sure I could afford to send them back – due to the the cost of school uniforms.

How it breaks down…
I stay in Glasgow and I received:

  • A £47.50 school clothing grant for my 14 year old
  • No grant for my 16 year old [who recently started 5th year]

From this available grant I spend:

  • £30 for a compulsory school blazer
  • £9 for the compulsory school PE polo shirt
  • £4 for a tie.

This left me with a total of £4 to buy the rest of the uniform.

It doesn’t add up
The school recommended buying the uniform from a supermarket, as they suggested this would likely be the cheapest option.

After research into supermarket school uniforms the cheapest I found for one full uniform was £58.

That was £10.50 more than the grant I received for the full kit.

Unfortunately Glasgow – like Dundee – does not award an additional £22 PE allowance alongside a £50 clothing grant.

Contrast this with West Dumbarton, who award all qualifying children £100 [including 16 year olds returning for 5th year].

This award would have helped me buy a full uniform. Instead I had to borrow £200 to buy uniforms for my sons – arranging to pay it back at £20 per week (from my child tax credit).

My 16 year old will eventually receive £30 per week Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – the allowance is designed to help towards the cost of a uniform.
It’s now October and my son has yet to receive any money.

My son’s school has a strict uniform policy. If he didn’t have the full and proper school uniform – including blazer and black shoes – his school would send him home until he is dressed according to school uniform policy.

With EMA payments only being available for a child who achieves 100% attendance, I am in a no win situation – ‘Catch 22’. He must continue his education to qualify for EMA payments – but attending without the proper uniform would see him sent home.

A false economy
I know from previous experience of buying supermarket uniforms that it’s a false economy.

The trousers fade a lot quicker than those bought from a department store – and white shirts are grey after a few washes. That means having to bleach them.

On the other hand after (researching some department stores) the cheapest uniform I could see was £131. But you are guaranteed a full term without having to replace trousers and bleach shirts.

When you take into consideration the cost of a replacement uniform, after a short time, it’s actually not much of a price difference.

East Lothian give vouchers to the value of £50 to use in department stores towards a uniform. I think this could be something other local Authorities, and a Fairer Scotland, could consider doing.

Despite the Scottish government proposing a minimum level of £70 school clothing grant in 2008, I was disappointed to read that only some local authorities have actually applied for this. For example Angus do not award any school clothing grant at all.

I think the Scottish Government should listen more to people who are living in poverty – the people who are finding the cost of school uniforms unaffordable. A Fairer Scotland needs to ensure we address such issues of poverty, and strive to make sure we can clothe our children for school.


Caroline is currently involved in the Mutual Mentoring Scheme.


Other information

Website, Fairer Scotland dialogue application
Visit the dialogue application to view some of the great ideas already submitted in the Fairer Scotland conversation! You can comment on these ideas, and share some of your own. Go on, get involved – towards a Fairer Scotland.

Website, The Poverty Truth Commission

The Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force

Di Alexander, Chair of the new Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force.
Di Alexander, Chair of the new Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force.
Di Alexander (Chair, Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force)

I was recently appointed by Scottish Ministers as the independent chair of the new Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force.

I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s Task Force initiative because far too many people living in rural and remote areas simply can’t afford to heat their homes properly – particularly in the predominantly off-gas areas where domestic energy costs much more [when compared to those that have access to mains gas plus the dual fuel discounts that come with it].

Other factors also contribute to the scale and nature of the problem. A recent survey showed seven out of ten households in the Western Isles are living in fuel poverty – many in severe fuel poverty. That simply cannot be right.

So I fully support the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle such inequalities and develop a new approach to tackling the problems of social injustice wherever they occur in Scottish society.

The Task Force’s remit is to come up with a set of practicable and realistic:

actions which a) would make it significantly easier and more affordable for people living in rural and remote Scotland to keep their homes warm and b) will be fed into the further development of fuel poverty policy and energy efficiency programmes.

Membership of Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force
The 22 members of the Task Force bring with them a huge amount of front-line and strategic understanding of the fuel poverty challenges – and they are working hard to address these across rural, remote and island Scotland. They include:

  • Di Alexander – Chair
  • Rural Housing Scotland
  • Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association
  • Ofgem – as observers
  • Highland and Islands Enterprise
  • Changeworks
  • Orkney Islands Council
  • Eildon Housing Association
  • ALIenergy
  • Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Perth and Kinross Council
  • Energy Action Scotland
  • Shetland Islands Council
  • Tighean Innes Gall
  • Fintry Development Trust
  • Energy Agency
  • Energy Saving Trust
  • NHS – Western Isles
  • Scottish Land and Estates
  • Dumfries and Galloway Council
  • Scottish Association of Landlords
  • Scottish Rural College
  • SCARF

Our job is to come up with practicable and realistic solutions which address the identified inequalities effectively and well.

Task Force schedule of meetings
We have an initial schedule of Task force meetings, detailing the topics for consideration.

  • 20 October 2015 –Supply chain and skills, housing stock and change and statistics
  • 9 December 2015 – Social and economic benefits and health benefits
  • 23 February 2016 – Personal circumstances and resources including Welfare reform

We have a year to complete our task and issue our report (Autumn 2016) but have got off to an excellent start with everyone signed up to the remit and the principle of co-production – this means producing short and succinct papers which not only set out particular aspects of the rural fuel poverty problem members wish to emphasise but, crucially, which then focus in on the solutions that they believe would work – or could work.

I would be delighted to receive similar submissions from any organisation or individual who may wish to contribute to the deliberations of the Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force. A template for submissions is attached below for your convenience. Thank you.


More information
Website, Scottish Energy News
Feature focusing on the new Task Force, from Scottish Energy News.

Document [21KB], SRFP Task Force – Template for submission of papers
Please use this template if you would like to contribute to the deliberations of the Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force. You can return all completed templates via email to Elsie Matheson

Tackling Child Poverty

Fairer Scotland discussion in Dundee.
Fairer Scotland discussion in Dundee.

Hanna McCulloch (Policy and Parliamentary Officer, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland).

Everyone with an interest in child wellbeing has had their capacity for optimism sorely tested over the last few months. The UK government’s intention to abolish child poverty targets, cut tax credits and aim yet more swinging cuts at low income families have left even the most experienced commentators reeling.

The question CPAG has been considering this week though is whether – against such a bleak backdrop – the devolution of social security powers can offer a ray of light to families in Scotland.

Can control over a small proportion of current UK spend on social security really make a difference to so many households struggling to make ends meet? These are the issues we had to address head on this week as we prepared evidence for the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.

And despite the negative context, our conclusion was positive. We concluded that with public encouragement, political will and a principled approach, the Scotland Bill does offer scope for genuine and meaningful change. As our response details, the powers earmarked for devolution offer the chance to make a real dent in child poverty.

Using top-up powers to triple lock the value of family benefits, for example, could boost the finances of low income families both in and out of work. Making sure universal credit better reflect real housing costs could also help families enjoy more stable, suitable housing thereby improving the outcomes and wellbeing of their children.

But what came across most clearly as we developed our response was that even those new powers which don’t get much media attention – the ‘small fry’ benefits like cold weather payments and maternity grants – could be remodelled in line with CPAG principles (including poverty reduction, simplicity and consistency) to make a massive difference to hard pressed families.

Take, for example, the sure start maternity grant. The grant is worth £500 and is paid to low income families upon the birth of their first child (and, in limited circumstances – subsequent children). The grant is invaluable to the many families who use it to buy the essential paraphernalia of parenthood – bottles, bibs, clothes and nappies. Yet by reimagining maternity grants in line with CPAG’s objectives and principles and taking the experiences of real families into account, sure start maternity grants could be made better still and do more of the leg work needed to give Scotland’s children the best start in life. For example;

Poverty Reduction

The Scottish Government could increase the value of sure start maternity grants – which have been set at £500 since 2002 – to reflect the rising cost of living and expense associated with a new baby. CPAG has estimated that the cost of raising a child has risen by 5.6% percent in the last 3 years. The maternity grant should grow to reflect this. This would make a huge difference to hard pressed families who are struggling to meet the most basic of costs.

Rebecca, who lives in the Highlands is struggling with the cost of a new baby ‘Sometimes I have actually had to sit and choose between electricity and feeding myself. If the (electricity) meter runs out I have no leeway because the previous tenants run up a huge debt. So sometimes I do have to choose between feeding me and heating the house. I really have to budget’.

Simplicity

It is not as easy as it should be to access sure start maternity grants and many eligible families do not claim their awards. At the moment a midwife or other professional has to sign a form when the mother is 11 weeks or more pregnant. The mother then has to complete the long, sign it and post it to the DWP. CPAG believe simplifying the process of claiming the benefit could help a lot of families. In fact, ideally, the process of accessing maternity grants would be automated – either through IT systems which generate payments automatically or through the development of working procedures which minimise the need for action on the part of the mother. This could get rid of some of the pitfalls that mean so many mums lose out.

In one case received by CPAG, due to complicated personal circumstances, a client’s sure start maternity grant form was signed 3 days before the time limit for applying expired. The form was handed into the local job centre plus within the 3 month time limit, however they refused to accept the form and provided an envelope for it to be sent to Wolverhampton, where it was received out with the time limit. The form clearly states that it can be handed into the local jobcentre plus.

Consistency and fairness

In 2011, the UK Government decided that sure start maternity grants should only be paid in respect of a mother’s first child. This means many low income families have no additional support to cover the costs of a new child. This is particularly hard for families who have a gap of more than two or three years between their children, and may not have ‘hand me downs’ available to pass on to a new baby. To make sure all children get the best start in life, the Scottish Government should restore entitled to all babies.

A grandmother has kinship care for her daughter’s 4 & 7 year old and will get care of daughter’s baby when it is born. Grandmother did will not be entitled to SSMG for the baby because there are other children under 16 living in the house, even though she did not get a SSMG them.

Applying these basic principles to all new powers and ensuring resources are available to give them meaningful effect will ensure a brighter future for Scotland’ children.


Find out more about CPAG at http://cpag.org.uk/scotland/child-poverty-facts-and-figures

The impact of welfare reform on Scottish women

Margaret Burgess, Minister for Housing and Welfare, hears from women in Maryhill about what would make a #fairerscotland.
Margaret Burgess, Minister for Housing and Welfare, hears from women in Maryhill about what would make a #fairerscotland.

Welfare Reform measures are undoubtedly having an adverse impact on women. The Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) has consulted with women the length and breadth of the country over the last few years on the issue of welfare reform, from the initial Bill stage right up to the way in which changes to the administration and payment of benefits is affecting women, their families and communities as a whole at present.

The establishment of the Smith Commission, and the subsequent proposals for new powers over certain aspects of social security for Scotland, has also generated a significant amount of debate and discussion amongst women.

“Women, who still manage household budgets and support children proportionately more than men, are bearing the brunt of austerity cuts and the demonisation of those who claim social security benefits. It stands to reason that women’s experiences must be taken into consideration when looking at how these new powers are delivered.”


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The devolution of certain aspects of social security will give Scotland the opportunity to be a leading light in terms of supporting those who need help most. It will also allow account to be taken of the unique social and geographical nature of the country.

Women have welcomed the proposals set forth in the new Scotland Bill, such as the administration and payment of, for example, Universal Credit. Having the power to decide when payments are made will benefit many women, as will the ability to split claims between members of a couple.

This is particularly the case for those who would suffer financial hardship and dependence as a result of a single household claim.

Women have also welcomed the devolution of benefits for carers, disabled people and those who are ill. These powers give the Scottish Parliament the opportunity to ensure that the often unique needs of those who claim this type of support are considered and met. This will be of significant benefit to carers, the majority of whom are women.

The devolution of these benefits, as well as other powers over social security, will mean that women are not as adversely affected as they are at present. Rather than attempting to mitigate the impact of legislation, policies ad practices already handed down, it will be possible to design a system which best reflects the needs of those seeking work in Scotland as a whole.


Scottish Women’s Convention

Find out more at:

http://www.scottishwomensconvention.org/

Scottish Welfare Fund: Case studies

Today as part of our themed week on social security we focus on the Scottish Welfare Fund. The Scottish Welfare Fund which has been formalised by the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015, was the first substantive welfare reform act to be passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Welfare Fund has been in operation since 2013. Replacing the Department for Work and Pension’s Discretionary Social Fund it is designed to help people on low income in crisis to stay in their own homes.

Today we hear from some of those who have used the fund.


Crisis Grant – Glasgow

John (aged 27) who suffers from depression and also has a back complaint applies for a Crisis Grant payment as his Employment Support Allowance has stopped. John requested a Crisis Grant to purchase food as he has now been without income for over two weeks.

The Department for Works and Pensions issued a letter requesting John attend a medical to his previous address, he never received the letter, missed the appointment and his ESA was stopped.

Decision Maker confirms the John has submitted an appeal against the decision to stop his ESA, to ensure the quickest possible end to the crisis situation, and awards a payment of £86.88 to assist with living expenses for the next fortnight.

John went to his local Pay Point, used the code on the text message he was sent and received his cash payment.


Crisis Grant – Glasgow

Christina (aged 32) is a single parent with two children, aged 13 and 7 months, she applied for a Crisis Grant payment as her benefit payment had been delayed. Her weekly income was Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit.

The application was made with assistance from a Social Worker who supports the family. Christina had recently reported a change of address to Her Majesties Revenue and Customs, which resulted in a delay in her next payment of Child Tax Credit.

Christina requested assistance with food and utilities until her Child Tax Credit payment became available in seven days.

Decision Maker confirmed customers Child Tax Credit payment would be available in seven days and awarded £100 for food, electricity and gas.

Christina attended her local Council Office, with proof of her identity and received her cash award the same day she applied.


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Community Care Grant – Glasgow

Edward (aged 69), currently in receipt of Pension Credit. Customer requests assistance via a Community Care Grant for a fridge freezer. Customer has heart problems and prostate cancer and is currently waiting to go in to hospital.

Edward’s fridge freezer was no longer working and could not be fixed. Edward advised he had been managing without a fridge freezer up until now as he has been well enough to shop daily however as his health was getting worse he was no longer able to make it out to the shops every day and needed to be able to store food properly to allow him to do his shopping once a week when his daughter took him out at the weekend. Edward feared without assistance he would be unable to continue living independently.

Decision Maker assessed the customer’s situation and made an award for a fridge freezer to help Edward remain in the community, as the circumstances indicated the customer may not be able to continue to live independently without assistance.

Fridge Freezer was subsequently delivered, installed and the customer’s old fridge freezer removed by the Councils furniture provider the following week.


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Crisis Grant and Community Care Grant – Perth and Kinross

Mrs Brown contacted the Scottish Welfare Fund to make an application for a Crisis Grant as her household income had reduced significantly as a result of her husband being absent from work due to illness. The family requested assistance with food and fuel for four days.

The couple have two children aged 8 and 12 and also have their adult son still living with them. Mrs Brown cares for her youngest child, who has autism. The family live in a private sector tenancy and they had a small amount of rent arrears, despite the fact they are in receipt of a small amount of Housing Benefit

Whilst carrying out the assessment for a Crisis Grant the local authority also provided a comprehensive welfare benefit check was undertaken to establish whether the correct amount of benefits/entitlements were in place. A DHP application was taken to assist with the payment of the rent shortfall and consideration for the small amount of rent arrears owed. A Community Care Grant application was also taken for a washing machine as the family’s machine had broken beyond repair and Mrs Brown mentioned she was considering getting a new one via Bright House. A referral was made to the Welfare Rights Team regarding Tax Credit overpayment.

A Crisis Grant was awarded to tide the family over for four days of £120. A DHP was awarded and backdated for ten weeks to cover small amount of rent arrears. DHP was also awarded for the shortfall in rent of £44.55 per week due to the non-dependant deduction being applied as the customer adult son still resides with the family. A Community Care Grant was awarded in respect of a washing machine for the family. The Welfare Rights Team continued to assist Mrs Brown with an ongoing dispute with HMRC over a Tax Credit overpayment.


Community Care Grant – Aberdeenshire

Jennifer (36) is a single parent with four children. She is a currently in receipt of Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit and is awaiting the outcome of her claim for Income Support. Jennifer applied for a Community Care Grant for a cooker and bunk beds.

Jennifer recently separated from a violent partner who broke many of the items in the home including the cooker and she cannot replace them due to her limited income. Jennifer was receiving support from Cyrenians, Police Scotland and her Health Visitor.

Decision Maker assessed Jennifer’s situation a made an award via a Community Care Grant as the family were under exceptional pressure. An award of a cooker and bunk beds was made and subsequently supplied, delivered and installed via the Councils furniture contract.


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Crisis Grant – Aberdeenshire

Rachel (24) is single parent, living with her 19 month old daughter, applied for a Crisis Grant for food, nappies, electricity and gas costs. Rachel is currently in receipt of Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit.

Rachel applied for a Crisis Grant due to unexpected rises in her heating/electricity costs as her daughter had been unwell with sickness and diarrhoea, this meant her washing machine has been on a lot more and heating had been on a lot more to dry clothes and to ensure the house was warm. Rachel had prepaid meters and at the time of the application only had a few nappies left.

Decision maker assessed Rachel situation and decided a Crisis Grant could be awarded as expenses had arisen as a result of an emergency due to Rachel’s daughter being unwell and living costs being higher as a result. A Crisis Grant was awarded for £50 to cover the cost of food, nappies, gas and electricity for four days until Rachel’s next payment was due.