The three-hour round trip


Mia was one month old yesterday. “Did you have a party?” I ask, jokingly.

“No, but he wants a big party for her first birthday. He wants to hire a venue and invite lots of people.”

Frances is reading the first four posts of this blog, before it goes live. It’s important I have her agreement. I’ve told her she can write for it as well but, for now, it’s not her priority. “There’s a bit here you should take out,” she says, underlining a short paragraph about their early relationship.

On these last few visits, I’ve been meaning to ask about money and find out how she copes now she’s a mum. “This place is paid for out of housing benefit,” she says, “and I’ll get income support, child benefit and family tax credits, but I haven’t had any of it yet.”

“What do you mean?”

Although Mia is now a month old the benefit system hasn’t caught up. Frances says you can only apply for benefit AFTER the baby is born and so she hasn’t received anything yet. “So how have you managed?” I ask.

“His money,” she says of Hassan, “and my social worker has given me the odd £30 when she is here.”

If the social worker cannot hand over emergency cash personally Frances says she is invited to pick some up from their offices in Longsight, across the other side of town. This reminds me of Barbara, a 70-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker I followed a couple of years ago on her bus journeys to pick up £35 in supermarket vouchers. Four bus journeys in all. It took all of one morning.

Later, at home, I plan the proposed route on the local travel website. The 15-minute car journey would take an hour by public transport: three separate bus rides. So, had Frances needed the cash desperately, she would have to pay for six bus journeys and take her month-old daughter on a three-hour round trip for £30. She didn’t do it in the end but relied instead on Hassan’s benefits.

While we are talking Hassan is busy preparing a bottle and a bath for Mia. “She’ll be awake soon,” he says, measuring the formula, checking the temperature of the water. He’s a hands-on dad.

“We have no hot water,” he says, “it’s broken, so we have to use the kettle. They say it’ll be working again on Monday.” It’s Wednesday today.

As a team, Frances and Hassan, change, bathe and feed their daughter.

“Which one?” asks Frances of the two Babygros she has brought from the bedroom.

“What shall we wash first, face or hair?” asks Hassan.

“Why are you asking me? You know what you are doing, you do it every time.”

Before I leave Frances asks how to get onto the website. “It’s ‘herfirstyear.co.uk’.”

Hassan smiles. “Just that?”

“He’s getting excited,” says Frances.

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