Paula Sharma Interview – Mums with Benefits

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  • Can you tell us a bit about what triggered you to start your account  Mums with Benefits and the story behind it? 

When I turned 30 I had a mortgage, owned my own flat, and was in a career I loved, often having 3/5 jobs at the same time, paid, and voluntary work. When I turned 40 I was in emergency accommodation with my newborn son and for the first time in my life, I was in receipt of benefits. I would not change my story for the whole world. My time in the emergency and then temporary accommodation was the best time of my life up to that point because I had my beautiful son.

Financially my life is still a juggling act, but because of my son, I have never been richer! So I know people’s circumstances can change. I also know that when you feel low and rubbish about yourself, it’s hard to be the best version of yourself. If you don’t care about yourself, you don’t look after yourself. You don’t go for what you want or even deserve. Mindset plays such a huge part in how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. So I wanted to help women out there in similar financial situations to feel better about themselves! I want women to know that things can and will get better. Whatever is going on now will not last forever. With a bit of information and normalizing conversations about benefits, I am hoping to make some kind of a difference. 

  • What are the main issues that you are looking to address with Mums with Benefits? 

One of the main issues I want to address is the stigma around being on benefits and how that can have such a knock-on effect on our lives. Some women won’t get the financial help they need, some mums will stay in desperate situations because they don’t want the stigma that being on benefits brings with it. I want women to know that it’s OK to ask for help sometimes. Your current situation and circumstances do not define the person you are. If you need help, please please please access the services that can get you to a better place. In many cases, it is just temporary. Benefits are just to help you while you need it. I want to normalize benefits for people. It shouldn’t be a dirty word. If you are ill you take medication. If you can’t see properly you get prescription glasses. If you can’t make ends meet, speak to someone about getting some help to see you through this difficult time.

I want these women to know they are not alone in their struggles. I believe it is vital that you have a positive mindset and I know this is so much easier said than done in some situations. But if you feel low about yourself, unworthy, you are much more likely to allow yourself to be treated disrespectfully, to stay in negative and sometimes even dangerous circumstances because you don’t feel you deserve better. And if your financial situation is just another thing contributing to that then I think it’s important we all try to change that.

The media portrays mums on benefits as lazy, living in council estates, unhealthy, single, etc as if these are all dirty words. Then the images I see of mums on social media are young, glamorous, nice cars, big houses, good-looking supportive partners. It can make you feel that there are only 2 types of mums out there and if we don’t have it all together and figured out, then we should be ashamed of who we are. I want to encourage women to know that this is not true. To never be ashamed of who you are and to know that we are more than a stereotype!

  • What would you say to the mums that follow us in Asian Mums Network that are not in the best circumstances right now and therefore are interested in the help your project provides? How can they reach you? 

Asking for help is a great strength. It is not an easy thing to do and I understand that. This Instagram account has been created to help and support women/mums across the UK from all backgrounds who happen to need government help. It is to highlight charities and services up and down the country for women to access and to show the different types of benefits there are available. I want to show women what is out there. I have learned so much already since starting this as there are so many types of charities that we just don’t hear about it. Even if it just plants a seed today. This account will always be there to come back to.

Also, a lot of the time people who work at these charities either paid or voluntary, do so to give back because they were once in similar, if not worse circumstances. So there is no judgment or criticism. Just compassion and understanding and a knowledge of how to help. Anyone can message me on Instagram, send me a private message to @mumswithbenefits and I will always do what I can to help! 

  • What system did you develop in order to both empower and help mums to get back their confidence and do amazing things? 

I want to normalize this conversation so we can break down another barrier that can stop women from accessing the help and support they need. I feature famous women who came from extreme poverty and now are worth millions. More importantly, I want to show mums who are either still on benefits but do part-time work or volunteering and help others, or who have worked their way off and no longer need the help. I want mums to see women just like them, living differently.  I want to make it real…real women achieving real achievements who are just like us! We can do anything!!!

  • Since the beginning, what was your main mission with this project? 

I want us all to feel seen and heard and most importantly, to feel valued! Valued members of society deserve just as much dignity and respect as the next person because not having a job or a viable income does not make you less of a person. It does not reflect your heart and soul. Let’s talk about it! Let’s build each other up! Let’s support and empower the incredible women who face so much adversity all while bringing up tomorrow’s future!! These mums should be held up on pedestals and applauded and celebrated!

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