A friend of Basic Income Ireland shares their experience, in response to the #MeAt20 trend on social media.

‘Me at 20’ is one of main the reasons I actively campaign for the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in my 30s. A UBI would mean that every adult receives a basic payment from the state, which remains the same regardless of employment status. It replaces the core social welfare payments and tax credits for those who are earning.

‘Me at 20’ was in a very dark place (although I was trying my hardest to fight against it). Monday to Friday I was doing an art portfolio course in the hopes of continuing on to art college and in the evenings and weekends I worked as a cashier in a supermarket. The rest of the time I was rapidly falling into the grip of a very serious eating disorder (ED), mainly bulimia with periods where I would eat as little as possible.

Unfortunately as my ED got progressively worse I made the decision to drop out of my art course and instead enrolled in a manager training programme offered by my employer. But it wasn’t long before my life pretty much spiralled out of control because of the ED (even though I was still working full-time during this period). The main reason I was staying in the job  was because I needed to earn an income and I wouldn’t have even considered going on ‘illness benefit’ or ‘disability benefit’;  as with most ED suffers I firmly believed that I would wake up one morning and ‘things would somehow be different,’ that I was somehow ‘in control’ of this (I can assure you the ED was calling the shots and not me). Also, if I had quit my job voluntarily I would not have been entitled to any social welfare support for up to 9 weeks (I was living away from home and I would have been unable to pay my rent).

Looking back now I know that if I had been in receipt of a UBI payment during this period I could have quit my retail job or at least worked only a few hours per week. Which in turn would have allowed me to focus my attentions on my art and getting my portfolio ready and going to art college. My life could have turned out very differently (in a positive sense) if I had had a UBI payment during this period of my life where I was extremely vulnerable. Instead, I felt I ‘had to work’ at a job just so I could afford to live. 

The long road to recovery from my ED finally began when I eventually left my job at age 24 and was signed off on illness benefit (I had literally reached the point of where I could no longer continue living the life I was leading). After my illness benefit ran out after 3 months I was moved onto ‘jobseeker’s benefit’ (even though I hardly fitted the criteria for being ‘capable and fit for work’). As with most long-term ED sufferers my recovery took a very long time (several years in fact) and taking time off paid work to focus on myself played a pivotal role in this. From attending numerous group therapy sessions with other ED suffers over the years I learned that taking a significant amount of time off paid work to address the root of their issues was also a significant factor in the recovery of other sufferers. However, this is something very few can afford under the current social welfare system.

With my vulnerable mental state at that time I could have done without the additional anxiety of proving myself “fit and capable of work” each week, in order to qualify for jobseeker’s allowance. 

During this time, I was actually very unwell and in hindsight, I could possibly have been entitled to either illness benefit or disability allowance. However that would have involved a significant intrusion into my private life, which is not dignified for anyone, particularly ED sufferers, who are generally quite secretive about their dysfunctional eating habits. Since I was apparently able-bodied (albeit mentally and emotionally unwell) it would have rested very uneasily with me to claim either disability or illness benefit during this time.

Furthermore, if I had claimed either illness or disability benefits, that  would have pigeonholed me as unwell at a time I still had an unshakeable belief that I would somehow wake up one morning and things would be different, that every time I purged it would be the last time (this is a very common belief amongst most sufferers of both EDs and those with other addictive, destructive behaviours).

This experience for ‘Me at 20’ (and up until my mid-20s!) absolutely broke the hearts of my family, my close friends, and of course myself. A UBI during my twenties would have allowed me to focus on myself and address the root of my ED and concentrate on my art which has always been a huge source of joy for me (and which incidentally played an important role in my eventual recovery). A UBI scheme would have removed the administrative hassle of the current social welfare system and would have guaranteed me a modest income without having to be either ‘fit for work’, or without having to prove I was unwell.

‘Me at 20’ is one of the main reasons I actively campaign for a UBI scheme in my 30s (and will continue to do so). UBI would be good for everyone but of particular importance and usefulness to people when they are going through a vulnerable period in their lives.

For support services available to people suffering from an eating disorder, see bodywhys.ie

If you would like to share a story of how a basic income would impact your life email us in confidence – hello@basicincome.ie