Woman, 50: Christmas is a difficult time, and I dread it every single year. I cannot afford to buy Christmas gifts to the children. If they need new clothes, I tell them to wait until after the holidays, so I can get them at the New Year sales.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be poor. Nobody will tell you they are. People think it’s something that can only happen in foreign countries or to homeless people, so they can’t see that we are poor. I drive a car, but I lease it. We rent an apartment that looks fine from the outside, and we appear to have clothes and food. But I would like to tell you about the poverty that is invisible. What does it mean to be poor?

My problems began when I got divorced, nine years ago. My husband got the house we owned. I got nothing. I took him to court, but he won. Sure, he had inherited money that helped us pay for the house, but I provided for our family through many years, with my student loan and my work. I accept the verdict, but at the same time I can’t understand it; it goes against my sense of justice. I have always wanted what is best for my children, and I was given care of them. I was already on sick leave at the time, and I was soon diagnosed with a chronic illness, which means I’m unable to work. In the winter, my health problems are so severe that I almost cannot leave the house.

I have often been depressed and worried that my state of mind will affect my kids; they have suffered from psychological problems and bullying.

In all the houses we have lived in there has been mold, humidity and cold temperatures. In our previous apartment, I would spend the whole day in bed in the winter, because I couldn’t afford to warm it up before the kids returned from school. When they did, I got up and lit the fireplace up.

My mother pays for all our food, and in return I drive her around and do errands. But since I don’t want to be a heavy burden on her, I buy the cheapest stuff I can find. This often means unhealthy food; vegetables and fruit are expensive. It bothers me that we live such an unhealthy life when it comes to both food and housing. Husbanken (The Norwegian State Housing Bank) will not give me a start-up loan because my income is too low, so I always have to rent. Had I been able to pay 10,000 kroner a month for my own place things would have been totally different. In all the houses we have lived in there has been mold, humidity and cold temperatures. In our previous apartment, I would spend the whole day in bed in the winter, because I couldn’t afford to warm it up before the kids returned from school. When they did, I got up and lit the fireplace up; there would be frost on the inside of the windowpanes. Where we live now, the floors are covered in carpets, and there is mold in the basement. My daughter and I both suffer from asthma, so I cannot go down there, where the washing machine is. I have to cover my mouth when I do. First, I slept on a mattress in the living room, and nobody slept in the basement, but after a couple of years I got a bed, and really wanted a bedroom. Then somebody else needed to sleep in the basement.

Christmas is a difficult time, and I dread it every single year. I cannot afford to buy Christmas gifts to the children. If they need new clothes, I tell them to wait until after the holidays, so I can get them at the New Year sales. We sometimes visit my sister for Christmas; partly because the kids like it there, but also because it means I do not have to buy Christmas food. But it’s so hard when their children get huge Christmas presents, and I cannot afford to give any whatsoever to my children. Sure, they do tell me that I don’t need to buy expensive gifts or anything, but when we’re there together on Christmas Eve… and the other kids get such amazing gifts… The boy in the house got a 3D printer. We can only give them home baked Christmas cakes, or make gifts out of used DVDs and other things that are lying around or that we have won at charity fairs. My children are good at helping with these things. So even if we try to take gifts with us as well, our situation becomes so awfully apparent when we spend time with others. The best thing is when the children celebrate Christmas with their father, and I can just stay home alone, where nobody can see me.

My chief concern is to be able to pay my bills every month. I cannot remember the last time I bought clothes for myself. I haven’t visited a hairdresser in several years, and have to think three times before I go to the dentist. My children need to buy clothes, make-up, bus passes, etc. with their student allowances. They never complain. But I notice that it’s hard for them when they have to ask me for things. My son has grown a lot recently so I’ve had to buy him new trousers. The he has asked: ‘Mum, can we really afford these?’

I have no social life. Since I cannot leave home for much of the year, I also have social problems. I don’t talk about my situation with others.

I have no social life. Since I cannot leave home for much of the year, I also have social problems. I don’t talk about my situation with others. My mother doesn’t want to hear about it, and I have no friends in Kristiansand. But I have been going to therapy for several years. My social life is all on the internet. I play music for an American internet radio channel three times a week. I don’t get paid for it, of course, but it’s important for my mental and physical health.

January is the worst month of the year, because then my exemption card from welfare services hasn’t started working yet, and I have to pay any health service or medicine I need out of my own pocket.

I have tried to get NAV (The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration) to analyze my economy and set up a budget for me, but they didn’t want to help, and only offered to put my economy under their administration. Now I’m asking my brother for help. I really struggle to make people understand that I actually have economic problems. Because that’s the truth of it; the numbers show it. This is where things get hard for me: what can I do, and how can I do it?

Why on earth can’t anybody help people like me?

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