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Just Managing?

Mark O'Brien
Paul Kyprianou

Part II: The big issues

5. Meeting Basic Needs

Texte intégral

Wolves at the door

1Income insecurity and the increasing stresses of work make life difficult for low paid workers in many ways: some all-too obvious; some hidden from a casual view. Shortages of cash from month-to-month, as well the constant worry about ‘keeping the job’, lead to a host of basic problems of life for those in such circumstances. It is these problems, and the issues of personal and family survival they raise, to which we turn here.

2Managing on limited means of course depends entirely upon the adequacy of household income measured against the costs of living. During the Getting By? research period, typical weekly costs as tracked by the standard measure of the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) were relatively low and stable. The CPI however, is an averaged measure, and as such is not ‘equivalised’ according to socio-economic class or specific social circumstance. So, whereas for example the CPI is based in part upon average supermarket prices, this means very little for those who cannot afford bus and taxi fares for shopping trips, and so rely instead upon corner shops with far higher mark-ups on their goods than high street chains.

  • 1 Office for National Statistics (2015), Statistical Bulletin: Consumer Price Inflation. December, h (...)

3Looking more closely at the CPI also reveals that the various consumption elements that contribute to the calculations supporting it, behave differently over time and affect different socio-economic groups unevenly. So, whilst the CPI was quite stable through the years leading up to and covering the months over which the interviews were conducted, with ‘clothing and footwear’, ‘furniture and household goods’ and ‘recreation and culture’ costs all falling slightly, transport costs increased significantly.1 We have seen already how the difficulties of travel for work have become greater for many people in low-income jobs. This element of the CPI will therefore have had a disproportionately greater affect upon those same people, than upon those for whom transport costs make up a far smaller proportion of their overall expenditure. Annually, and even from one monthly cycle to the next, these various elements behave differently and their effect upon households will vary depending on their relative importance in relation to specific economic circumstances. The CPI then tells us little about the real impact of consumer costs, until we factor in original consumption levels and overall consumption patterns for different social groups.

  • 2 Loopstra, R., Reeves, A., Taylor-Robinson, D., Barr, B., McKee, M. and Stuckler, D. (2015), ‘Auste (...)
  • 3 Garthwaite, K. (2016), Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain. Policy Press, pp. 35–36.
  • 4 Trussell Trust (2016), ‘Foodbank Use Remains at Record High, as New Data Mapping Tool Gives Fresh (...)

4As a corrective to complacent assessments of living standards for the low paid in the UK, we can look to one crucial indicator of severely adverse changes for the poorest families; that is the appalling phenomenon of ‘food-poverty’. In recent years, food-poverty has moved from being a peripheral social issue, occurring at the margins of society, to being very much a mainstream issue for many thousands of working families. In 2010, as the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition Government entered office, the Trussell Trust, a charitable provider of foodbanks in the UK, were running centres in 29 Local Authority areas; by 2014 the Trust was active in 251 areas.2 This meant that the Trust was operating more than 400 foodbanks, covering 1,400 food distribution centres.3 The use of foodbanks since their introduction has increased dramatically. Figures from the Trust showed a trebling in the number of ‘three-day emergency food supplies’ between 2012 and 2013. A further trebling had occurred by the end of 2014. By the end of 2015, a nineteen percent increase on the previous year took the number of such emergency supplies over the one million mark for that year, with 396,997 of these being to children. For the year 2015–2016 the figure rose by another two percent taking the figure to 1.1 million emergency hand-outs across the Trust’s 424 foodbanks.4 Whilst not every donation equates to an individual, as users vary in the frequency of accessing a foodbank, the Trust’s statistics suggest that approaching half of these donations were indeed to ‘unique users’.

Three day emergency food supplies. Trussell Trust 2017.5

  • 6 Trussell Trust (2015), The Trussell Trust’s Response to Feeding Britain’s Route Map to Ending Hung (...)
  • 7 Trussell Trust (2016), p. 2.

5The Trussell Trust’s tracking of the reasons for people accessing its foodbanks is illuminating, providing a picture of the types of problem being faced by those struggling on low and insecure incomes. In 2016 for example, 43 percent of referrals to the Trust’s foodbanks had arisen from delays in benefits payments and changes to the benefits system.6 In the same year, as well as these causes, there had also been an increase in the numbers of referrals arising from sickness, homelessness, delayed wages and unemployment. Receipt of foodbank donations by those who are in work but who are nonetheless unable to adequately feed their families, stood at 20 percent of all referrals in 2013–2014; this had risen to 23 percent by April 2016.7

  • 8 Trussell Foundation (2015), ‘Foodbank Use Tops One Million for First Time Says Trussell Trust’. Pr (...)

6A survey in 2015 found that the main causes of referral were “low income, administrative delays in paying social security benefits, benefits sanctions and debt”.8 Despite government denials that welfare reform has been a cause of the rise in foodbank use, the connection between them is clear, as Kayleigh Garthwaite (2016) discovered in her research conducted in a foodbank in Stockton-on-Tees.

  • 9 Garthwaite, K. (2016), p. 83.

The reasons why people used the foodbank were multiple and complex. Sanctions, benefit delays, debt, bereavement, low-paid jobs and poor health are all some of the factors driving people through the church doors. Almost 44% of people were referred to a Trussell Group foodbank in 2014/15 due to benefit delays and benefit changes, with a further 22% using a foodbank due to low income. 9

  • 10 Department for Energy and Climate Change (2015), Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2015, p. 17 (...)
  • 11 Howard, R. (2015), Warmer Homes: Improving Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency in the UK. Poverty E (...)
  • 12 Motwanie, N. (2015), ‘50% of Working Households Struggle to Heat Homes’, Turn2Us, https://www.turn (...)
  • 13 Ibid.
  • 14 Guertler, P. and Royston, S. (2013), ‘Fact-file: Families and Fuel Poverty’. Association for the C (...)

7Where there is food poverty, there is also likely to be fuel poverty. Fuel poverty exists where more than ten percent of a household income is spent on fuel, including heating the home to a minimum standard of 21°C for a living room and 18°C in other parts of the home. Government estimates put the number of English households in fuel poverty at 2.38 million or 10.6 percent of the national total. The highest rates of fuel poverty are found in the privately rented sector where houses are more likely to be energy inefficient. Forty percent of homes in the bottom two income deciles suffer fuel poverty, as do least 30 percent of households with no-one in work.10 Again however, working households now appear in categories of need formerly associated with more marginal social circumstances; so, 1.1 million in-work households are now in fuel poverty.11 One-in-two low-income working households are not always able to pay their energy bills, and 33 percent of those living in such situations have skipped meals in order to avoid going into fuel debt.12 Each year 25,000 elderly people die as a direct result of being unable to heat their homes adequately. The charity Turn2us reported that during the winter of 2016 one in six disabled people had to wear a coat indoors to stay warm.13 The problem however, does not only affect the old and the disabled. In 2013, research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy revealed that more than 1.6 million children were living in cold homes in the UK.14

  • 15 Ibid., p. 7.
  • 16 Barnado’s (2012), Priced Out: The Plight of Low Income Families and Young People Living in Fuel Po (...)

8The negative life effects of fuel poverty go well beyond day-to-day physical discomfort, distressing though this is for those who suffer it. Cold homes are also a cause of respiratory diseases and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Children living in under-heated homes are more likely to develop asthma and bronchitis than children living in warm homes.15 One-in-four adolescents living in cold homes will develop ‘multiple mental health problems’, compared to one-in-twenty of those living in warm homes. Being cold at home also negatively affects children’s school attainment and their general well-being. Parents supporting families on the lowest incomes are forced to cut back on essentials including food purchases, to keep their homes warm.16 Fuel poverty has a disproportionate effect upon the disabled as many health conditions are worsened by cold in the winter months. Disability means a more housebound existence for many. It also restricts options of moving to more heat-efficient homes given the high costs of mobility aids and home adaptations. Persistent cold also aggravates stress, anxiety and many mental health conditions.

  • 17 Office for National Statistics (2014), Households and Household Composition in England and Wales: (...)
  • 18 Foster, D. (2016), ‘More Families Are Renting and Fewer People Ever Expect to Own a Home’. 25 Febr (...)
  • 19 Ibid.

9Accessing and maintaining decent and stable housing itself is increasingly difficult for those on low incomes; and is impossible for more and more people at the lowest income levels. The 2011 Census revealed for example that the upward trend in home-ownership in the UK stopped and began to go into reverse for the first time since the 1951 census. The proportion of mortgage holders had dropped by fifteen percent since the previous census; whilst the proportion of privately rented homes has increased by 69 percent over the same period.17 For millions of families, home ownership is simply not an option. With the social housing sector having nearly halved in size since 2002, private renting is the only option left to increasing numbers of families. Since 2002, the privately rented sector overall has almost doubled in size.18 This includes an increase of nearly one million more households with children living in privately rented accommodation.19

10The story however, does not stop there. The quality of houses in the privately rented sector is often poor: one third fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard. Complaints against landlords have risen significantly in recent years, with a large proportion of those being over matters that pose an immediate risk for tenants’ health.20 Housing insecurity is also a problem for increasing numbers of people. A 2017 analysis produced by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau revealed that 39 percent of families with children in the privately rented sector have tenancies of six months or less. Over a third of the survey participants said that the period of notice they would receive to vacate their properties would not allow them sufficient time to find a suitable alternative. Nearly 80 percent reported significant deficiencies in the quality of their housing with problems of rodent infestations, poor heating and no hot water. Half said that their homes had mould, a third that their windows and doors didn’t lock properly and a fifth that they were living with faulty wiring.21

11A combination of shortages of affordable housing in most regions, rising average rent levels, decreasing employment security and the impacts of welfare reform have led to historic rates of evictions. The number of people being evicted from their homes in the privately rented sector has increased by 50 percent since the introduction of benefit cuts following the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.22 Between April and June 2015, 10,361 households (more than 23,000 people) in England and Wales were repossessed compared to 7,072 over the same months of 2011. In 2016 government figures showed record levels of evictions of families with children.23

  • 24 Rutter, J. (2015), ‘Childcare Costs Survey 2015’. Family and Childcare Trust, www. familyandchildc (...)

12For households with children, child-care is a necessity without which parents and carers would not be able to work. For many thousands of families this is a major difficulty. One major issue is that the supply of child-care places has failed to keep up with demand. Under the Childcare Act 2006, English and Welsh local authorities have a duty to provide an adequate supply of places for the children of working families. In fact, the levels of provision have decreased in recent years. In 2015, just 43 percent of local authorities were maintaining an adequate supply of places; a drop of seven percent from the previous year. With respect to places for disabled children, the situation is much worse. Only 21 percent of English and seven percent of Welsh local authorities are providing sufficient numbers of places for disabled children; representing decreases of seven percent and nine percent respectively.24

  • 25 Monaghan, A. and Goodley, S. (2014) ‘Cost of Childcare Cancels Out Pay for 1 in 10 Working Familie (...)

13Even where places are available, child-care fees can be prohibitive for those on low incomes. Despite much ministerial rhetoric maintaining a commitment to funding child-care as part of ‘back-to-work’ agendas, Government subsidies have not in fact kept up with the rising costs for families. In 2015, the cost of having a child under two part-time at nursery stood at £115.45 per week, having risen by 5.1 percent from 2014. Part-time care by a childminder rose over the same period by 4.3 percent to £104.06 per week. These above inflation rises make it increasingly difficult for families to meet the full costs of professional care for their under school-age children whilst they at work. A 2014 report by the insurer Aviva, revealed that one-in-ten families has one working adult whose net income is nothing after travel and child-care costs have been covered. One-in-four working families have one adult who brings home £100 or less a month after these costs. The report showed also a median residual amount after child-care costs of just £243 per month for those on low incomes.25

  • 26 Armour, R. (2014) ‘Charity Shops Buck Trend’,,24March 2014.

14With escalating costs of covering basic needs, come greater risks of descending into debt. Families on low incomes of course make strenuous efforts to manage within very restricted budgets by buying the cheapest goods. This is reflected in trends in retail patterns in the UK. Whilst retail outlets have reduced in number for most sectors over recent years, the single exception that has seen an expansion is the charity retail sector.26

15Many thousands of families, along with ‘make-do’ strategies to stay on top of weekly expenses, are also more frequently accessing credit unions that require savings and provide short term affordable loans at favourable interest rates. By September 2014 figures, credit unions across England, Scotland and Wales had 1,173,299 members; a ten percent increase on the previous year.27 Based on current trends in the UK, there will be two million users of credit unions by 2020.28

  • 29 BBC (2017),
  • 30 Osborne, H. (2015), ‘New Consumer Debt Reaches Seven Year High in UK’, The Guardian, 3 January 201 (...)
  • 31 Coles, S. (2013) ‘The Horrifying New Trend in Pay-day Loans’. AOL Money, 24 December 2013.

16Still, the steady rise of the use of credit cards, store cards and loans in the UK has normalised debt as part of life for many low-income families. UK household debt has more than quadrupled since 1990. According to the government figures, by January 2017 the average household in the UK owed nearly £13,000 (not including mortgages).29 Whilst the trend of rising debt is itself striking, it is the uses of debt that reveal the real nature of the problem. Whereas personal debt might once have been associated with luxury consumption, today this is not the case; indeed, far from it. For those at the lower end of the income spectrum, debt more than ever results from the need to cover necessities, as income fails to keep pace with household costs.30 Increasingly also, easy-to-access pay-day loans, provided at exorbitant rates of interest, are being used to buy essential weekly goods. Rather than being used for one-off and unpredictable expenses (the way such loans are often advertised), the most popular use of this type of lending is now for food and household bills. Forty-one percent of pay-day loans are used to pay for groceries; and 32 percent for gas, electricity and water payments.31 The problem is that because such debts are a means of getting by from week-to-week, the surplus income required to clear the debt following the period or episode of need is simply absent. This leads to a rapid accumulation of even quite modest initial amounts of debt to uncontrollable and dangerous levels, as individuals and households are pushed towards financial crisis.

Family voices

Constant struggle

17For these families, finances were a constant struggle. Family members explained the frequent predicaments they faced when having to consider how every pound was spent from one week to the next.

I just constantly feel I am on a treadmill. Keep saying to myself ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’. I just can’t see it yet.

18Indeed, the reality of this type of situation became all too evident during an interview with Sian, as it was being conducted. For Sian and Steve, weekly household outgoings were exceeding income by just under £11. They had started using a service that deals with individual and family insolvency, to help manage and reduce their debts. They were trying to clear debts over £1,200. Their financial situation had become even more difficult when Steve was off work due to illness.

We genuinely are struggling; but I would have just struggled on. You just do don’t you?

19At this point the interview was interrupted by an urgent phone call from Steve. When Sian returned she was angry and flustered.

Sorry, sorry. He’s saying he’s just had a text from the bailiffs. The bailiffs are coming to remove stuff. I think it was [firm of bailiffs]. I can’t really remember. The [credit service] people need to speak to them; but they’re always texting. They’ve told me to ignore them but it gets a bityou know.

The weekly shop

Everything’s gone up; all the food’s gone up; the bills have gone up. My wages don’t go up.

20Most of the families were clear that their financial situations had significantly worsened in just a very few years as a result of price increases, the failure of wages to keep pace with these and the impact of changes in tax credits. The weekly shop is always where the increase in the cost of living is most obviously felt. Just over twenty percent of Eileen’s income was going on the weekly shop, with three-quarters of that being spent on food. She was keenly aware of just how much prices had gone up for the items she relied on.

Food’s gone up tremendously. Electric, gas, massively; I can’t believe it. I shop in [a less well-known supermarket] usually. That’s the cheapest. So as to put stuff in the freezer and that. I know I could get a decent week’s shopping four years ago for about £60–70; but its £110 now, for a normal shop. Not loads of treats, not loads of goodies; but a normal shop, you know with fruit and veg and all that. But sometimes it can’t be done. So we do have a ‘beans-on-toast’ night and we do have ‘cheese-on-toast’ nights. That’s the only way I can do it.

21Even though she was shopping very prudently, Eileen was still in debt. She was paying back over £3,000. That figure didn’t include the bills that she was unable to stay on top of.

I haven’t paid the TV license for twelve weeks. I’ve not paid the water rates for god knows how long; and when the ‘Council Tax’ catch up with me, I’m finished.

22The small annual increases in the minimum wage had made little difference for Karolina and Micha. Just over 23 percent of their income was going on the weekly shop.

I think first of all, the prices have gone up and I know the minimum wage has gone up every year, but by 20p […]. Two years ago, the money was there and now all the money is just getting spent. The food and bills, everything is going up. I think that’s the main problem, everything is going up, but wages are not going up in the same proportion as the food goes up.

23Sian and Steve had two young children. They were spending almost a quarter of their income on the weekly shop. They had almost nothing left after paying the bills and shopping to get through the week.

After we’ve paid everything out, we’ve got about £20 left spare for through the week. Out of what I pay, the rent and a few bills, like, I’m in so much debt. But then I’ve got £20, and that’s for like a paper or milk or bread. There’s always something you need a pound for. And when he gets his wages on a Friday, we go to [a local supermarket]; usually £40–60 on food and then gas and ‘leccy. So it all adds up by the end of the week; and we just manage again.

24As with all the other families, the children were the priority for Ali and Rabia.

We just have to pick and choose. Like we always feed the kids and clothe them, because they’re my priorities; as long as we get the kids’ stuff. I haven’t got anything. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. So I don’t have a habit to give me financial problems. It’s hard because you have to think about all the food and things. I have priorities; but every day at school they have to have like new things. But they don’t get anything at school to help them, nothing; so it’s hard. You have to buy your own uniform and shoes; my daughter’s going on about her cardigan, school dress, summer dress. We can’t afford holidays. We can’t afford certain things; a car. It’s just struggling. I just think as long as they get fed and they go to school and have an education, you know? I don’t even have, like a carpet. We can’t have mobile phone contracts; just pay as you go. The gas and the electric are on a meter. We just buy what we can afford.

25An observation made by Amber about supermarket packaging and ‘two-for-one’ offers, is one that many could identify with. It made things just that much harder for families on limited budgets.

Everything seems to have gone up in price, and smaller in packaging. Does that make sense? I have noticed like crisps and things the packets have gone smaller, but the price has gone up. Chocolate bars have gone smaller you know; even big food packaging like [well-known brand] chicken fingers; there are only three in that, and there used to be four. Things like that have changed; and it’s like you know [well-known supermarket] do these ‘you pay £4 for one’ or you can get ‘two for a fiver’. So you end up spending more because it’s on offer; you know what I mean.

26For many of the families, rising prices meant cutting back on basic costs. As Karen put it:

I just give them the bare essentials really; three meals a day. Sometimes I get things that are on offer.

27Grace was spending thirteen percent of the family income on food. She found it hard to see how she was spending this much.

I mean we don’t eat extravagant food; no takeaways. I mean the kids, we went to [well-known fast food outlet] the other day; and it was the first time in like two months, which I don’t think is like living beyond our means. It’s a treat like. And I buy basic meat; I don’t go and get the most expensive meat. I’m always buying basics. So I don’t understand sometimes how I spend so much on food. But there’s six of us.

28All of the families had become quite expert in getting their money to stretch as far as possible. This not only included shopping in the cheapest shops and looking for the cheapest items, but also, as Jiao explained, buying food near its sell-by date.

For example, when I’m buying things, when I see those approaching the use-by date and are reduced in price, [or] vegetables that are looking not too bad, then I would buy them. But for meat, I won’t buy. Vegetables and fruits, I would buy some.

29On average Zoe was spending 15.4 percent of her income on food. She focused on buying reduced items and admitted to being ‘almost obsessed’ with trying to save on her weekly shop.

I just go for the reduced stuff and [well-known supermarket] like where everything is cheaper. I am obsessed with it. I am proud of that in a way. I do manage. I’m quite good at that; making use of reduced stuff. I never buy, you know, pre-packed. I am always making my own things.

30Colette, who was spending just over twenty percent of her income on the weekly essential expenses, didn’t go shopping without a list to stick to.

So definitely, I’ve found more so lately we are back to doing shopping lists and budgeting on things. You know, you don’t just ‘willy-nilly’ go into the shops and pick stuff up any more.

31The family weekly shop for Will and Sam was taking up just under nineteen percent of their income. Avoiding the temptations of the supermarket by shopping on-line was one of Sam’s tactics.

I mean, every time I do shopping it’s always more. I try to do mine online because once you’re in the supermarket, it is tempting just to throw things in, even if it’s just a pound. You know, it does add up. So I do try my best with little things and stuff, but even then, we have to cut down on other things just to live.

32Planning meals and making extensive use of the freezer helped Terri to make savings. She was spending thirteen percent of the family income on food.

I pick chicken bits up or something each week, so my freezer is always full. I freeze bread; I freeze milk; I freeze butter so it’s always in; I freeze soup as well. So I am quite nifty in my shopping. It’s just my bills and everything else that’s suffocating.

The costs of child-care

33For many families the cost of child-care was the crucial factor in deciding whether mothers stay at home or return to work. For some, the only option was to go back to work and increase the hours worked if possible, to be able to afford care for children following their maternity leave. In practice, very few of the families were paying for child-care, relying instead on grandparents and other family members to help mind the children. When this wasn’t practicable, the view was often that it simply wasn’t worth returning to work or increasing hours because there was little, if any, financial benefit once child-care was paid for.

I can’t really put on people to do child-care. It didn’t work out. Child-care was costing £10 an hour and I am only getting paid £8; so it didn’t work out.

34For the parents of older children, the costs of after-school care and school holidays were also very high. Amber with three young children explained the problem.

Just after-school care which comes to £108 a week. They have just been off two weeks for Easter and they were only in, what eight of the ten days; that cost me £360. Quite expensive! It’s hard, and, as I say, with me and my partner working, and him doing shift work; he’s never off on the same days each week. So I can’t confuse the nursery by saying ‘I need them that week, that week, that week. I just have to pay it and just let them go in. There is nothing really I can do.

35Later in the year with the summer holidays approaching, Amber described how she felt about the costs involved.

  • 32 Sure Start centres provide community support for families living in deprived areas. Decreases in C (...)

I just want to highlight the cost of child-care. I think it’s outrageous, and it needs to be regulated. I don’t know how anyone is expected to afford it; especially me, and I’ve got multiple children. It’s ridiculous. We used to live in a Sure Start 32 area so that nursery was reasonable; and we could afford that. But now because we live in [area] the only nursery linked to our school is a private day nursery, and it’s £210 a week. It is just outrageous. I am worried genuinely about the six weeks coming up; what is going to happen? I mean my partner’s going to try and get his Mum to have them and stuff, because I can’t.

36Shortly after the family interviews, plans were announced for ten of Liverpool’s Sure Start children’s centres to close due to further reductions in Central Government funding. Liverpool currently had been providing fifteen hours free early learning for children over two, for parents receiving Working Tax Credit. Taking advantage of this had proved to be difficult for Jiao, due to the hours she works. At the same time, she couldn’t afford to pay child-care.

I now go to work; and asking people to look after [the children] would cost me £30. I only earn £50 a day.

37Luke and Minnie had been talking with their parents about looking after their children, again because of child-care costs.

The places are available at nursery, but we’re considering the cost, to be honest. If we put the kids in the nursery for five days, it means almost a full-time wage. That’s why we were thinking that the first option was my parents looking after them, to be honest with you. It costs about £50 per day, or even a half day is £30. Because I’m still working full-time there’s no help. We have to sort out our own, unless the kids reach three years old and then they’re entitled to fifteen hours a week. That’s still in one year’s time for my first kid.

38Malcolm was on a zero-hour contract with uncertain hours and that made it difficult for Tammy to get a job. Again, this was because of the sheer cost of child-care.

It’s just hard with child-care and the only time I’d be able to go out and work is when [their son] goes to full-time school. He could go to nursery; but your child-care costs are just horrendous aren’t they. Then that’s another expense you’ve got to look for throughout the month, isn’t it?

39Cath’s situation was complicated by having a child with special needs who was refusing to go to after-school club. Even though she wanted to return to work, she would have to wait until her son went to senior school. She also felt that it wouldn’t have made financial sense, especially as the youngest would have had to go into nursery.

Yes, even going to work is tricky, like with three children. The cost of nursery for the youngest ones pretty much rules out working, because I would probably pay more for nursery than I would get in income.

40With a new baby and having to work shifts, Brenda was faced with the prospect of having to pay the costs of all-day nursery-care. She was reluctant to do this, not only because of the costs involved, but also due to her poor experience of nursery care with one of her children.

Lilly went back to nursery. She started at the age of one, and when I look back I think it was too early. Because the nursery that she was in, there were a lot of kids in there, a lot of babies. I remember going to pick her up, and she’d be in a part of the nursery, but on the floor, on like baby mats and then, like, at the time, I thought, ‘It is what it is, I have to do this’. And now when I look back, I go, ‘No, I don’t want to do that with the baby’.

41Grace felt that working night-shifts seemed to be her only option if she was going to return to work.

I mean I want to go and get a job myself, but we’re really going to struggle working round my partner’s hours and my hours; and then if I pay for childcare, what’s that going to cost, for four kids? I can’t leave an eleven year old. I’ve looked for jobs to do of a night, to try and work it around the kids; because there’s no job you can get from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock.

42With no family in this country, Karolina had limited options when it came to child-care. She saw the cost of child-care as the biggest barrier to mothers returning to work.

Child-care, cheaper child-care. I would say that’s the most important. Because once someone’s got a baby, it’s not as easy as it was before to find another job; especially people like me when they haven’t got any family to help them with the child. I was looking for a place for [her daughter]; it was about £33 a day. And that wasn’t even like eight hours; it was a six or seven hour day. If I go for six hours even at that time, that was still minimum wage, that would be £36. So it would only be a few quid left for me. So what’s the point? Getting the bus pass for that few pounds left; working for nothing.

Cutting back

43The only option for the families when faced with an escalating cost of living combined with falling wages, was to cut back on spending. For Gaynor, who usually had just £10 left at the end of each week, everything to do with family finances was a struggle. She was having to cut back everywhere she could, except for spending on her daughter.

Virtually everything; everything. Oh, clothes shopping; I haven’t been clothes shopping for a very long time. Hair doesn’t get done very often; maybe once every six months. It’s hard; like [her daughter] gets everything. What she needs she gets; and if there’s anything left, I might go and get my hair cut, or get myself a new pair of knickers or a bra or just something.

44In the same way Zoe, with nearly £4,000 of debt and less than £10 left in her purse at the end of the week, had been cutting back on weekly spending, and on just about everything else.

Yeah: petrol; shopping; the bills in the house; heating; social time. We don’t go the movies anymore. We don’t go for a meal, nothing like that. That’s like gone. Holiday. The TV package: that’s something I’ve got to ring them up about. I’ve got to cancel it and buy a little box now.

45Ruth was spending more each week on household bills and shopping than she had coming in. Like the other families she’d had to consider where she could cut back. She had recently cancelled her household insurance.

So it will be saving me another £30 a month. I have cancelled insurance on the house. I haven’t got any house insurance now. Yeah, I have had to cut back on lots of things. Me and my daughter were going through it the other day, and we worked out what we paid the window cleaner; and she said ‘Maybe we get shot of the window cleaner and clean the windows Mum?’

46With two new babies, Minnie and Luke had spent £1,357 on nappies and baby items over the course of the year. The family were having to cut back on spending and were looking to make savings.

There’s quite a lot we’ve had to cut back on, like clothes. In the past I could just buy what I liked; but at the moment I need to keep considering every item. So we spend less money when we buy clothes, also maybe, we consider our food more; we buy cheaper products and that type of thing. We have broadband but we need a cheaper package. In the past we could spend quite a lot of money on it; and the mobile phones of course.

47Emma had stopped using her credit card and was cutting back wherever she could, including on food items.

Now I’ve had to cut back on food. I used to save up for social, leisure money. It’s not for me, I don’t do anything. But I used to save it up, and now I’m going to have to use that to buy important things; or as a fund for unexpected things.

Keeping something back

48None of the families had savings and most relied either upon help from their families or upon borrowing from wherever they could obtain credit, and often at high rates of interest. Carol couldn’t remember a time when she’d had anything left at the end of the month that she could save. Joy had wanted to save to go on holiday with her daughter but had found it impossible. Denise’s situation was also typical.

Don’t really have any money left by the end of the week, or the end of the month. I’ve just got to budget all the time. Make sure I’ve got money put away to do something; especially like they’re on half-term next week, you know. You’ve got to find the money then to do things with them. Sometimes I just haven’t got it. So it is hard you know. It’s just hard, very hard.

49Over the course of the year Janet was spending an average of £138 more than she had coming in each week. Not surprisingly, she was finding things very difficult and was in a significant amount of debt.

No, probably about the second week of the month it’s gone. That’s once you’ve got a big shop in and stuff like that; paid all your bills.

50Coming from Poland, Micha and Karolina needed to keep something back for an emergency in case they had to return home urgently. During the year they had also had to make proion for the arrival of a new baby. On average they had a surplus of about £44 a week.

So I can’t let myself or my family have any money at all, because the way that I’m thinking is maybe one day we will need to go back, all of us. So I need to have the money just to buy the tickets, and get us ready to go back if something happens. I know it’s not right; it’s a pessimistic way of thinking. But what happens if someone dies? I’ve got a Nan; she’s 84. So, I’ll need the money to go there for her funeral and get back.

51Over the course of the year Liz had nearly £3,000 of unexpected expenses recorded in her spending dairy, or almost fourteen percent of her total income. With a weekly deficit of £27 she had found it extremely difficult to stay on top of unexpected costs. She had tried to manage things by using her overdraft. In the end, she had turned to her family for help.

Cry to my Dad, that’s usually what I do. Go to my Mum and Dad. To be honest, not really; it’s only if something goes really wrong. If something breaks, that kind of thing, I’d go to them then. But most of the time, to be honest with you I’d just use my overdraft. I’m always in overdraft, always. But ‘touch wood’, nothing has ever gone majorly wrong. Things like my washing machine broke, and Dad bought me a new one. I wouldn’t have been able to just [buy one]. I probably would have had to go to one of those places where you pay monthly.

52Without savings and with an average weekly deficit of over £30, coupled with debt of more than £6,000, Sam and Will were having to wait until they could get enough money together to get some important household items fixed or replaced.

There’s things that we can’t [get fixed], like my tumble drier. We’re really lucky to have my tumble drier at home; a lot of people don’t have one. I use it when I’m trying to get the kids’ things dry, or in an emergency. But I just can’t afford to get it fixed. It’s things like that. We can’t do that this month, so we’ll have to wait until next month and see.

53Unexpected costs such as having to replace domestic items, coming on top of debt repayments, were causing some of the families serious difficulties. Ric and Carol were having to contend with nearly £3,000 of recent unplanned expenditure. So when the washing machine broke down for example, they couldn’t afford to get it fixed.

It broke down just before Christmas and I had nothing. I was washing; doing all my washing in the bath and basically asking round if anybody had a washing machine that they didn’t want. My auntie had just bought a new one, so she gave me her old one; so I’ve got that. The tumble drier was my birthday present last year—no, it was my Christmas present. My birthday present was the printer I needed for [her son’s] school.

New and old

54Clothes shopping was frequently an area where families tried to cut back on spending, sometimes by using charity shops. Cath and Nick were spending a little under £1,000 a year on clothes and shoes, or 2.4 percent of the total family income. Carol was spending a bit more at £1,369, or four percent of family income. Terri and Don also were spending four percent of their budget on clothes and shoes. All were making use of charity shops.

Well, we shop in all the cheap shops; and definitely cut back on clothes. A lot of my friends like myself, we go to charity shops. You know, for us. For the children, they get new clothes; but we go to charity shops and we’d rather do that and buy second hand.

A lot of my clothes come from the sales. I either buy in the sales or the charity shops, or whatever I’m donated, basically.

Well, I have put it down in here [spending diary] just to show you. I think one month I spent £150 for the school uniforms which was skirts, jumpers, shirts and PE kit and trainers. I think I put I got their blazers in a charity shop.

55Sian had recorded almost no expenditure on clothing and shoes over the year.

I’ve looked at myself and, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a hole in my shoe!’ And one of my friends, she’s the same; she goes ‘The kids are all walking round in their trainers and I’ve got holes in my shoes! ’You literally have to wear your shoes out; and then you have to go and buy a new pair.

56Emma had also spent very little on clothes and shoes over the course of the year. She explained that she had stopped buying clothes for herself. Instead, now she gets her daughter’s cast-offs.

Like stuff for myself, clothes for myself, I don’t really. [Her daughter’s] stuff gets passed down to me. Luckily we’re the same size and height and so on, so stuff comes down to me.

57Grace couldn’t afford to go the hairdresser to get her hair done and so she did it herself. She was buying clothes through a catalogue as a way of getting credit. But, as she admitted, this is an expensive option in the longer term.

Well, we have to look at catalogues and things like that; and then you get penalised for using them. Then that costs more, so it’s just like a vicious circle. It’s the only way you can do it; that or get loans. But then again it’s going worse [into debt], so it’s a vicious circle.


58Budgeting is especially important for low-income families. Zoe, who was spending over fifteen percent of her income on the weekly shop, explained how she tried to budget.

I was trying to keep to a budget of £50; but then other weeks I would only spend £40. I do struggle with food you know and household stuff; trying to keep to the £50 because that’s what would keep me even.

59Emma whose weekly shop was accounting for over 22 percent of her income, had switched to shopping at one of the discount supermarkets. This had resulted in a big saving on her weekly shop. Later in the year she had reduced her spending further.

I got my shopping down to £50 per week which is not as bad as I thought because I’m making things like soup. So, what I’d spend on soup, I would spend three times as much on a whole chicken. I’ve sat the kids down, we’ve talked about it and they are fine now.

60Chang and Jiao had a very tight budget that they were trying to stick to.

Usually, our income is divided into different portions. One portion, no matter how much would go into saving for their [children’s] education fund. Then a portion is some money, when necessary for use in an emergency. Some parts go into living cost say ‘daily living’. Some parts for insurances or so forth that definitely have to be paid.

61Even though their sofa needed replacing, Karolina explained that she would rather budget to save for a replacement than get a new one on hire purchase.

As you can see the sofa is split in places. It’s time to think about getting a new one; but that has to be well planned. We could get one but that would be where you pay some money and then you pay monthly; and I don’t really like that. I would rather prefer to put £10 or £5 away each week and then pay the cash. Because you never know these days; if my husband lost his job there wouldn’t be the money left to be paid.

62The exercise of keeping the spending diary had helped Brenda see where her money was going; but it had also been depressing to her for what it revealed.

I’ve been looking through it and thinking where can I pull back to save money here? But I’m kind of ‘There’ s nothing that I can pull back on’. It’s helped me see where my money goes; but nothing’s really any different. It’s kind of depressing when you see your outgoings and you try and think where you can pull it back. Should I starve the kids this week, or can I save a little bit? It’s just getting by, isn’t it? You see it coming in on one hand and then it goes the next. But at the same time you get by, you make do, you have to.

63The spending diary had helped Carol in a similar way. However, she made the same point about the difficulty of budgeting when the money simply won’t stretch. She was spending nearly a quarter of the family income on the weekly shop.

The diary definitely has heightened my awareness of what I spend. But it’s finding places to make the changes. That’s my big one; the food. It’s having the lump of money to be able to do that. It’s all very well to be able to say ‘I pay my bills’. It goes through my head, if everything is paid, what I’ve got left. I then have to divide between four weeks. It doesn’t work like that because things come up constantly. Schools are terrible for constantly wanting money off you; money for this, money for that.

Fuel poverty

Well yesterday, because it was really cold I went home and washed the girls’ dressing gowns. And so, as soon as they came in, they put on them onesie things, so they keep them warm. And we all try to huddle. It sounds stupid in this day-and-age that you’ve got to do it; but you have to.

64The efforts the families were making to reduce their domestic fuel bills showed just how strained their finances were. Liz was spending nearly £1,400 annually on her domestic fuel bills for herself and one child, or 6.5 percent of her income. On top of that had come a large and unexpected energy bill.

Last year I found it really hard with my gas and electric, because they hadn’t been taking out enough on my direct debit. So, I got hit with a whopping bill that I was devastated about.

65The amount Brenda was spending on her domestic fuel was similar at nearly £1,200, or 6.3 percent of her income. Even though she had tried to save on energy use, she was struggling to pay her bills. She had also been told that she had long-standing arrears with one utility company.

Don’t talk to me about my gas and electric. For some reason, I don’t know why, but £200 came out this month. Maybe it’s me or the household, maybe we’re not budgeting. But I always switch everything off and try and manage it as much as I can. But for some reason it just seems to be really expensive; everything though, not just your gas and electric. I mean I’ve got the water company coming to me from years ago saying ‘You owe us this much’; and it’s just one thing after another.

66Jenny was typical in trying to reduce her heating costs to a minimum, especially if her child wasn’t at home.

I don’t put the heating on if [her son] is not here. I won’t have the heating on. Like if he goes to visit my Mum for the night, I won’t put the heating on if he is not here.

67When the children were at home Carol did much the same thing to keep warm.

Sometimes we get the duvets down because if you’ve got the heating on all the time, it’s at least £5 a day; so that’s £35 a week on the gas which is something. So, there are odd occasions when I say, ‘Come on, get the duvets down’ and then we all get snuggled under them and then it’s actually quite warm. That’s the truth that! We’ve done it for years to be honest, to save on the gas.

68Terri had managed to get her domestic fuel bills down to just under a £1,000 a year, or 4.8 percent of the family income. Her strategy had been simply putting on extra clothing to go to bed.

I went to bed last night in a jumper. I took my jeans off, put my ‘jama pants on and went to bed in my jumper I’d been wearing all day; because it was so cold.

Cold homes

69People living in privately rented accommodation have the highest rates of fuel poverty. Gaynor pointed out that the poor insulation in her privately rented property added to her fuel bills. She was spending £2,155 on her domestic fuel bills, over ten percent of her total income, for just herself and one child. Not surprisingly she only put the heating on when it was absolutely necessary.

I am going to be moving out of this house. It’s just costing me a fortune in gas and ‘leccy bills. It’s more gas really, because my house just has single pane windows. It hasn’t got double glazing. I just feel like I’m throwing money out the window. Just like ‘Go on, here you are, here’s twenty quid, you spend that. Here’s twenty quid’. So really I can’t really afford to put my central heating on. Sometimes the gas is £40 or £50 a week if I put the central heating on. It just swallows it.

70Denise also had a poorly insulated home. As she put it, it cost her ‘a fortune’ to heat. She had recently received a fuel rebate.

Yeah, don’t know why, someone said to me that the ‘leccy companies are doing this now, people are being paid back. They’ve been paying through their noses and now being paid back. But I don’t know, will they find out and take it back? I don’t know. Well I just know I put £15 on the card and they gave me £140. It’s a four-bedroomed house, and it’s constantly freezing, constantly. I mean I have to have the heating on day and night.

71Ruth was living in social housing with her partner Mark and their four children. Her domestic fuel bills accounted for 5.3 percent of the family income. She explained that she would always delay putting the heating on.

You know, I’ll say ‘Put a house coat on if you’re cold’, you know when the kids are sitting ‘round. Well I am always moving, so I am always warm anyway. But they can just sit there and they go ‘Put the heating on Mum’ and I go ‘No’. Well, I sort of say ‘No’ to them. Now we don’t put it on as much; but you’ve got no choice when it’s freezing though.

Pre-payment meters

72Although the families were usually aware that pre-payment meters for domestic fuel cost them more than monthly or quarterly meter readings, many still had them. Some had not been given the option because of previous arrears. Others preferred to have a pre-payment meter for the sense of control it gave them for their budgeting. Which was the better option in reality was a calculation that the families had to make very carefully. Nick and Cath had a pre-payment meter, but they were getting it changed.

We’ve gone on a meter; pre-payment meter. But we’re getting that changed because, well you know there’s been a mild winter; but we’ve still had to keep putting money in. And then it runs out; and then everything cuts off. Not ideal! Now I tried to explain it to my husband but he believes ‘Well it’ s a good pay off, because in the winter you pay, but then in the summer when it gets warmer you don’t pay at all’. But I tried to explain that it’s set higher anyway; so you are paying more. Maybe he’s listened to me, because we’re getting a meter now.

73Liam and Grace were spending over £1,300 on their domestic fuel bill, or 5.7 percent of the family income. Grace was firmly of the view that the higher cost of using pre-payment meters was unfair.

We’re on those meters. I have to have a meter because you know where you’re going; and it’s dear. You get penalised because you’re poor. Yes, you have a card and you go to a shop and you put say ‘a fiver on’ or ‘a tenner’ —a fiver lasts for hardly anytime at all. You’re just putting money into it constantly.

74A key reason for choosing pre-payment meters, where the choice existed, was to avoid a large quarterly bill that the families knew they wouldn’t be able to pay. Pre-payment meters also enable people to see exactly how much they are spending.

I try my best. I don’t like having direct debits going out of my bank because I just can’t control them. I’d rather have payment cards for everything now that I am in this house. I have payment cards for them all.

75Amy was spending over £1,200 on her domestic fuel bills. The ways in which she managed the heating was typical of many of the families.

I’m on a meter; so usually when I get paid, I get £60 each for both [electricity and gas] at the start of the month. But I usually have to top up about £20 towards the end of the month on each. I think my kids aren’t very cold kids anyway. So they’re quite happy to sit on the couch with a blanket rather than putting the heating on. If it’s not too bad, we’ll sit with blankets rather than putting the heating on.

76Karen and Steve also had a pre-payment meter.

It’s a meter. We put about £15 a week; but we need more in this weather. Its central heating, but the radiators downstairs don’t work, so the heating has to be on for ages before it heats up. The only times we have it on is of a morning and then when the kids come home from school for a little bit. It’s not on all the time, I couldn’t afford that.

77Phil revealed that he and Dot were falling behind on their fuel bills, even though they had been keeping their heating down to a minimum, trying to have it on only when their child was home.

We’re on quarterly meters; we’re paying £30 every two weeks to ‘the electric’, then £30 every two weeks ‘to the gas’. That’s what we have to pay and that’s all we can afford; but they would like us to pay more. Because the bill’s going up we’re starting to owe them money and we can’t afford to pay them more, because we haven’t got the money. What they generally do is cancel the payment card, then they write us a letter saying they’ve cancelled it. So you’re forced then to phone them up and then you’ve got to explain to them why you can’t pay any more; and that’s how you get another one. It’s not right.

78Because of the problems she had been having with her supplier, Colette wanted to stop having to use the pre-payment cards.

I am having all sorts of problems with [well-known utility company] at the moment. When I moved in, in September, I gave them meter readings from August and said, ‘This is what I am paying on my property at the moment’—which was £50 gas and £30 electric. ‘Can I carry on doing that?’They were like ‘Yeah, that’s fine’. They sent me two payment cards, one for gas and one for electric. So I have been paying £50 a month. Then a couple of weeks ago I got a bill saying I owe £203; ‘Pay immediately’ sort of thing. So, we are going through a lot of problems with them. It turns out they never actually set up an account to pay £50 a month. They are acknowledging that I have been paying, but they never set up an account for it; so I am trying to go on to direct debit.

Switching supplier

79Those families who had tried to switch suppliers to get a better deal were sceptical of government recommendations to ‘shop around’ to make savings. For instance, the annual domestic fuel bill came to nearly £1,300 for Will and Sam, or 8.6 percent of their income. Switching utility company had made little difference to the cost of their bills.

We pay a month £115 for gas and electric. Now I think last month I looked online at our account. I don’t do it every day, obviously, but I looked back and they put it up without telling me to £175 a month. I went ‘Nah, I can’t afford that!’ We’ll get our next bill and I’m fully expecting that we’ll pay out more then; a lot more. What I do get quite annoyed about is you keep switching to save money; but when you look into it, it’s ‘Nah, they’re all going to make money aren’t they?’ The hassle it is to switch! And the savings you get from it are negligible. It’s just repackaged in a different way.

80Jiao and Chang also had a similar view about switching energy supplier.

There isn’t a solution. Sometimes the electricity rate is more expensive in comparison to other providers; but their gas rate is cheaper than others. So, it compensates on each other.

Public transport

81Over the course of the school year the weekly cost of bus tickets mounted up for the families. Liz was spending nearly £22 on average a week on bus fares, amounting to 5.4 percent of her income. She was walking her son to school when she could, even though it was a good distance.

I pay weekly for my bus pass for work. It would probably be better if I could pay a yearly pass. It’s the same with Sam; his school is like a 25–30 minute walk. Now, in the summer I don’t mind doing it; and when it’s nice, it’s lovely. But in the miserable weather, when it’s raining and stuff, his favourite words are ‘Can we get a taxi, ’to which he’s told ‘No, we can’t’. But I will get a bus with him. But then, in the last few weeks he’s wanted bus tickets. But the other day I was like ‘We’ re going to have to just walk’; or we get the bus ‘round the corner that’ s like the cheaper bus—the little one, called the Comfy Bus—because the other buses are too much. It’s like £1.40 for him on the bus now. It used to only be 19p when I got it. It’s like, I can’t expect him to walk in that weather so I have to [pay]. When I get him a weekly bus ticket and me a weekly one, it’s like £25 a week; and that’s just the bus, so it’s not cheap.

82The cost of getting children to and from out-of-school activities also adds up. Liam and Grace were spending nearly £30 a week on bus fares, or 6.5 percent of their income.

You’re trying to get the kids to do activities after-school, which all cost money. You have to get a bus to get there, because there’s nothing in this local area. So then you’re spending again. But you don’t want the kids to be sitting at home; you want them to be socially active and fit. So it is it’s a vicious circle.

83Eileen was spending over £30 a week on bus fares, but getting a weekly ticket was helping.

Bus fares, you know, £9 for a weekly bus ticket; for the two kids its £18! We have to [pay]; it’s far, so we have to. So, I have to give them a weekly bus ticket, because it works out a lot cheaper.

84Terri had noticed that even the small savings matter and mount up over the year.

I’ll buy Saveaways—cheaper than bus tickets. Bus tickets are £10 and a Saveaway is £7.80.


85For working families with children, a car is often a necessity. Both Phil and Dot worked and needed to run a car. Phil explained that it was as cost effective as using buses.

We’re buying it in instalments. That’s £132 a month; about £35 a week. The insurance stayed the same which we were really made up with, because that’s the biggest one. It’s a second hand car, but it’s only had one prior owner and it was low mileage as well. I work up to 11:30pm of a night and the last bus is like 11:45pm, and there’s no chance of running for that. And if not, it’s a taxi or walking. When we looked at bus fares and things like that it would cost us £30 a week for both of us to travel on a bus; and that’s just a weekly pass. So obviously it’s just ‘Get the bus and pay the £30’ or ‘Have a car and it’s a bit more comfortable’. It works out more or less the same.

86Brenda was working shifts and couldn’t do without a car. Allowing for the costs of taking the children to school and after-school activities, a car often worked out cheaper than public transport. Both Carol and Cath saw having a car as essential because they each had a child with health problems. In Carol’s case, she and Ric were spending eight percent of their income on transport, most of it going on running their car. Sam and Will were also spending over eight percent of their income on running their car. Sam explained why they needed one.

My husband is disabled and he can’t walk very far and so does need the car; so things like that play a big part in it [the weekly costs]; and even more so if it breaks down or whatever.

87Buying and running a car is of course a significant expense for those on low incomes. Luke and Minnie were spending nearly six percent of their income on transport, mostly because of the costs of having a car.

Because of the two babies I needed to change my car. I changed my car and so I have some expenses for my new vehicle. I used some of my savings for a deposit and also I paid by loan for the car. I part-exchanged my old car so got a bit of money towards it, the new vehicle that I bought. The situation is the tyres aren’t that good; so I have to spend more than £250 to exchange old for new tyres.

88The costs of car ownership for Mark and Ruth in the end became unmanageable and they were left reliant on public transport once more.

No, it was just costing too much basically. It was costing insurance and it was costing everything: petrol; diesel. So, the car has gone.

Debt: how it happens

  • 33 Individual Voluntary Arrangements are a legal alternative to personal bankruptcy. Regular payments (...)

89Nearly all of the families were in debt. In some cases, the debts amounted to several thousands of pounds. These debts had normally been incurred simply by being unable to manage on inadequate incomes as opposed to any type of unnecessary expenditure. Without savings to fall back on, meeting unexpected costs left the families few options but to turn to various forms of high-cost credit. It then became a case of borrowing again from another source to pay back the original loan. For many families, the accumulation of debts created a situation of having to juggle one against another, to decide which to pay at any one time. This stressful situation was made worse by the sense of being in a debt trap, which the families saw no prospect of escaping. Two of the families had agreed to an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA)33 with their creditors. However, the consequence was then being blocked from access to any new forms of credit.

90The arrival of unexpected utility bills was one of the most common causes of debt amongst the families. For Liz, who was spending 36 percent of her income on rent, the problem started after she had moved house.

It’s just when things hit you all at once. Like it must have been coming up to a year ago and apparently they hadn’t had the original meter readings when I moved in. And it turned out that I owed them about £500 to £600 in gas and electricity, because they hadn’t done the meter readings properly when they first came out, or the landlord hadn’t given them the proper readings or something. And so I was devastated, because I hate the idea of being in debt. There’s nothing worse. So I’ve had to struggle, trying to pay that back, because for the last few months I’ve been having to pay £167 a month gas and electric; and it’s not the easiest thing to do when you’re on your own.

91Ruth and Mark were paying back over £5,500 of debts, or twenty percent of the family income. Ruth was clear that the changes to Working Tax Credit were having the biggest impact on the family’s ability to cope with the cost of living, and that this had dragged them into debt.

I am not 100 percent sure, but I think it was when the government come into power; when I lost the money [Working Tax Credit]. That made a massive impact on our lives because that was when [the problems began]. For a while you just cope without it. But I didn’t realise I was spiralling into debt.

92Family bereavements and associated costs were the principal reasons for Steve’s and Sian’s debt situation. The fact that Steve was being treated as ‘self-employed’ by his employer and so did not get paid for holidays, or for any other time he took off, had added greatly to their difficulties. These problems were compounded by a long-standing television licence fine.

Over the last year we’ve had a couple of occasions with family tragedies, loads of things. He’s had to take time off; so we’ve got a bit in debt over the last year or two, over, you know, with our bills and stuff. With one wage coming in the house it is hard. Obviously we get Working Tax Credit; only £15 at the moment. And I haven’t paid the school dinners for ages. I need to do that and there’s load of things, like over Christmas he doesn’t get paid. So we didn’t pay the rent over Christmas so we got more in arrears. So it’s always ‘catch-up’ really.

93Their situation had recently become especially difficult following a family bereavement.

We’re all grieving, and in November we had a bailiff turn up; put his hands on the car and said he was seizing the car for the TV licence fine that we had in 2005; and we had 24 hours to get that. We got it off his brother, but then obviously before Christmas we had to get that back to him. So it’s a constant challenge.

94Gavin and Phoebe were paying back nearly £4,000 of debt, and that accounted for eleven percent of their income. Whilst Gavin was off work due to illness, the family were sinking even further into debt.

I fell behind with the rent last week because, I just basically didn’t have the money; things crop up. Gavin was off work for a few days. He doesn’t get paid when he’s off sick; so they sent me a letter straight away because they didn’t get paid on the Friday. And I was just like, ‘Urgh’. So then it was like juggling. Rather than getting all the letters and getting the hassle, it was a case of ‘We’ll just buy the shopping on the credit card. And then what shopping money we have we’ll pay the rent’; and that’s how we worked it, but again it’s just getting deeper and deeper into debt. We owe £3,800 on one credit card; and now with everything breaking and stuff in the house, we’re back up to £4,600.

95Joy’s debts partly went back to when she had moved from a furnished house to an unfurnished one. She’d had to raise the finance for furniture. This had added significantly to the running costs of the house.

I have got quite a few debts; like something from Christmas. I’ll get stuff from catalogues or stuff on finance. When I moved house, I’ve had to get stuff on finance. It’s like an ongoing problem trying to pay them. Or I’ll ask family members. If I’m struggling for bills I’ll go to family members, and ask them for money.

96Denise was in long-standing arrears with her Council Tax and didn’t know how she would be able to clear them.

Last week I had a bailiff’s letter for Council Tax [arrears] I had about six years ago. I haven’t paid it because I can’t afford to give it them in one go. So, they’re waiting for a payment now; threatening me with letters. But it’s scary, though. I haven’t got it to be honest, it’s been that long. Then you’ve got to find it. But they’re saying to pay and I don’t think I can. They say I could go bankrupt; but I don’t know about that, how it would work.

97Sian and Steve were also in Council Tax arrears dating back over several years.

  • 34 Human resources.

I had quite a few bills from 2010, for my Council Tax. I have actually paid that. I had letters from three different bailiffs; and from ten years ago and eight years ago. So what I’ve done is, I’ve asked for an attachment of earnings. I felt a little bit embarrassed when a letter got sent to my workplace explaining what it was for. But at the end of the day, I’m quite an open person; So, I’ll probably make a joke of it when I go up to HR. 34

Banks and credit cards

98The families often had to make of use of high-cost credit simply because they had no access to the services that provide financial products at lower rates of interest. These are normally available to people in better paid employment. Those without bank accounts and using credit cards are often at the limit of their borrowing and overdraft facilities, and are managing only interest payments. Emma had a high level of debt on her credit cards. Nine percent of her income was being spent on debt repayment.

To be perfectly honest with you, I use credit cards an awful lot. So, say something breaks, I’ll use my credit card to replace it, or clothes for the kids and stuff like that. I usually get my shopping on my Visa card as well, most weeks. I’ve got debts on my credit card; about £7,000. It’s not going up and it’s not coming down to be honest. It’s just the interest rate is really high. Each month the interest is about £80 a month; so I’m only paying literally £20 off what I owe and the rest is the interest.

99Karen had been left with £19,000 of debt by her ex-partner. After ten years, she was still paying back that debt. She had obtained an Individual Voluntary Agreement to reduce what she had to pay back on her credit cards.

I’ve got my credit card debt. I think it’s about £400 or £500. Since like August I haven’t been able to make any payments.

100Ruth had seen her overdraft steadily increase, with little prospect of reducing it in the immediate term.

Now I live on my overdraft. I’m not in credit. I don’t ever credit my bank any more. Do you know what I mean? It’s gone from being a £200 overdraft to being a £900 overdraft, in the space of two years.

101Amy was also relying on her overdraft and 42 percent of her income was going on paying back debt. She was aware that she needed help to manage the situation.

I’ve got an overdraft of £1,250. I live on my overdraft. Basically, as the money goes in, it goes back out. There is a charge on it, but it’s about £12 a month or something like that; basically if my wages went in and I didn’t live on my overdraft I wouldn’t have any money for the week or the month. So, that then pays for the month; credit cards, the likes of [a credit service] I had to pay. Water rates and Council Tax, I’m still in arrears with. I keep hiding from them because it scares me, that debt. I think it’s about £4–5,000.

102Phil and Dot had a permanent overdraft and were only able to pay the monthly interest.

I’ve got a bank overdraft; it’s just an overdraft of £750. They charge me £20 a month to maintain it. It just stays the same, there’s nothing I can do about it. So, I think that’s just going to be there until we can manage to save something. I can’t foresee that.

103Over thirteen percent of Brenda’s annual income was being spent on paying back debt. She couldn’t increase her overdraft anymore and was now paying charges on it.

I’ve maxed it out. I arranged a £1,500 overdraft but it’s gone. So, every month I’m getting charged £1 per day, and I’ve been doing that for a month or two.

104Joy had taken some action to try to get on top of her bank debt.

I had my overdraft sometime last year. It was going up and up and up. I was getting bank charges and it was just like never-ending. So eventually I got a loan to pay off the overdraft, which I pay each month. And I have got quite a lot of credit which I have to pay, with my bank.

Pay-day loans

105Jenny’s experience illustrated the consequences of there being no cap on the amount lenders can charge for their loans. She found herself struggling to pay her bills, trying to defer payments on some debts, whilst paying others. She had been constantly moving payments around to find a way to get through the month. Then she got behind with her rent.

It was through [a credit service]. It was only £80 I took out and it’s now gone to, I think £700, because I haven’t paid it [the monthly payment]. What it was, I was on the internet in my Mum’s, trying to do it because I was in a bit of a panic about this rent situation. So I was applying for a few on-line and they were all coming up ‘decline’, ‘decline’, ‘decline’; and I thought ‘There is nothing I can do now’. So, I left it. The next day I went to check my bank and my rent had gone out of my bank, and I was thinking ‘That’s strange’. Didn’t realise and I thought ‘I must have miscalculated the rent; it was in there and it’s all alright’.

106In fact, her bank balance had been increased by a pay-day loan payment she wasn’t aware she had actually been given.

I was just relieved seeing that my rent had gone out OK. I didn’t even look into it, which was my own silly mistake. That was in the September; and then it was around Christmas time. I got a letter to say that I owed this £700 and odd; and I was thinking ‘Off what?’ So I phoned up and I was like ‘I never got a pay-day loan off you, I asked for one and I got declined’. They said, ‘We will give you the bank account number it’ s been put in to, and then check it against yours. If it is not yours we can rectify it’; and I [checked] it and it was mine.

107A pay-day lender had also taken money from Eileen’s account without her having knowingly entered into an agreement with them.

I tried to get a pay-day loan, like an idiot, and they took nearly £200 out of my account; and I never got nothing. Apparently, they’re legal if you search and look for one on the internet. And my son had got one many moons ago and swore that he would never do it again and they used his bank account. So [a well-known credit service], I think it was; they still had his bank account details and sold it to the ones I was looking at—and they’re entitled by law; they can take up to £100 out of your account just for you looking. So it’s an absolute nightmare. You just go ‘Where has that money gone?’

108The stress caused by getting into debt with a pay-day lender was evident in what Eileen went on to say.

I’ve got about seven letters sat on my back kitchen worktop and I haven’t got myself to open them, because I know what’s in them. I know I should go for help, I know. This is why I’m thinking, I could phone these loan people and say ‘There’s no way’. There’s no way they’re going to take me to court, because a judge will say ‘Why did you give it to a single mum?’ I’m going to have to reduce that loan over the next week or so. The Council Tax has to be sorted. I’m still catching up on Christmas, that’s why. I was just blinkered and stupid.

109Sam explained that they had only turned to Will’s father as a last resort. Normally, rather than doing that they have opted for pay-day loans.

We have used a few pay-day loans, and at the time it’s good, because it’s instant money and we can deal with our bills or whatever we need it for. We have to pay double or whatever it is, so we try and avoid them where possible; but it’s not always possible. We try not to get into debt, it’s really hard; but we try.

110Amy’s experience showed just how easy it is to access pay-day loans; even when the person applying already has a number of other debts. She owed over £10,000, a significant part of which was debt left behind by her ex-partner. As we have already seen, more than forty percent of her annual income was being spent servicing debt.

I’d managed to spend all my wages; took out a loan and then had to use the catalogue as well. Then I had to take out a pay-day loan at the end of the month to pay my bills that were due. I got that online, I think I got £700 all-in-all, and I think it worked out to just on £900, and something to pay back. So what I’ve done is I’ve split it over three months; so it’s about £350 a month to pay it back. I think it’s something like a one thousand percent interest rate. I’ve used them before.

111She was also very unhappy about her thirteen year-old son being offered a pay-day loan.

Three messages came up on his phone for pay-day loans. Now my son’s thirteen, so obviously someone’s selling the numbers onto these companies. I get quite a lot of text messages about pay-day loans. In my son’s case, I don’t know how it’s happened because obviously he’s never had a pay-day loan.

112Gaynor had fallen into debt initially due to a wages overpayment that had to be repaid. That led in turn to her getting into difficulties caused by the reduction in her Housing Benefit that followed.

I had to do one with [well-known credit service]. Yes, last year. I’ve took one out with them; and still I’m paying it back, only because Liverpool City Council overpaid me. Yes, not once, twice. Once in August 2013, and once three months later in October 2013. It was their mistake. Then because of the overpayment, my rent got stopped. So from August to December, where my landlord would normally get £103, he wasn’t; he was getting £74. So there was a shortfall. So, from now, I’m £305 in rent arrears.

113Amber was finding that she couldn’t afford to pay back her loan.

I did go to the [well-known credit service], but they were just being outrageous. So, I just didn’t pay them. I said ‘Look I can’ t pay on this day; you are going to have to wait’. It was like ‘Oh well, you are getting charged £30’; something like that. I can’t remember now because it was a while back. So, I just said ‘You are putting me in a position where I can’ t pay you back, so you are going to have to take action against me now’. But they haven’t bothered.

Door-to-door lending

114Door-to-door lending makes borrowing very easy, with collectors often arriving on the doorstep each week and building up a friendly relationship with the client. A company like the Provident will charge interest from between 170 percent to 500 percent. Amy had not appreciated quite how much she was paying out in total, until she started using the project spending diary. Because she kept up the repayments, she was regularly offered top-ups, which she said were difficult to refuse because she was always ‘broke’. She described how door-to-door lending works.

My collector is like a family friend now, he’s been coming that long and that’s why. I think they get something like ten percent of what they collect, or something like that. So, I didn’t want to [not pay] because obviously it would be a reduction in his wages. I used to pay him every week religiously. Whether I had the money or not because I did see him as a friend rather than a debt collector. But obviously with the reduction in the tax credits, I thought ‘I really couldn’t afford to pay it’. So, the payments I’ve reduced by over half. Obviously, they just said to me, if my circumstances change I can go back onto [higher payments]. But then I thought, if I do reduce the payments then they’re not going to offer me anything else. So, I’m not going to get myself further and further into debt with that.

115Eileen was also in debt to a door-to-door lender.

I’ve also got a [credit service loan], which is the same. They’re all posh words for the [well-known credit service]. They all change their name, disgusting interest; but great, as I say, when school uniform time comes up, or Christmas comes up. And I go ‘Oh yeah, go on’. It’s there and I’ll just get it and regret five days later ever getting it; and it’s gone. And a catalogue; I’ve probably got £7,000. I pay one £40 a week, and one £70. They’re lovely, in all fairness, the people who come, they are lovely. They’re on commission on what they collect, aren’t they? It’s just a big vicious circle though, isn’t it? You find yourself on that wheel and it’s very difficult to get off.

Cash conversion and pawning

116Pawn brokers or their modern high street equivalents such as Cash Convertors, were another means by which the families obtained access to ready cash. When it was something personal that had to be pawned this was an upsetting experience. That was especially true when the money wasn’t available to get the item back.

I have put things in, things that I don’t use, like necklaces and that, that my Mum had bought me for my birthday; and things like that. I pawned all of them.

117Terri and Don hadn’t been able to get credit elsewhere and so had pawned items.

No, I’ve tried; but in the long run I think it’s better they’ve said ‘No’. If we struggle, my partner’s Xbox goes in. Yeah, on ‘buy back’. So, what we tend to do is put it in there if we need it at the beginning of the month; and then when the wages come in, go and get it back. That’s what we try to do.

118Amber had been doing the same thing.

Plenty of times, yeah. Not recently, but I was doing it with the kids’ computers and everything because I just didn’t have any [money].

Catalogues and shop credit

119One way around a lack of access to credit is to get things that are needed using a family member’s name. Amy had done this to buy children’s clothes, furniture and a washing machine. Because the debt was in her mother’s name, the repayments were a priority.

It’s in my Mum’s name, but I pay the bill. I think that’s about £1,200 outstanding; so it’s about £200-ish a month. But the kids needed new bedroom furniture, new beds, so I got that.

120Terri had used a friend’s name to get a mobile phone contract for the same reason.

I mean I’ve got a mobile phone in my friend’s name, because I can’t get credit.

Credit unions

121Credit unions do provide a source of low interest loans. However, only a few of the families were members of a credit union. In part this was because up until quite recently at that time, saving with a credit union had been a condition of borrowing from it. Credit unions in fact can now offer loans to people who haven’t been able to save. However, Ric and Carol were unaware of this change.

We used to have a credit union when Ric worked for the council. But again I can’t afford to pay into a credit union to borrow from it.

122Phoebe made a similar point.

I’ve actually got a credit union, but I’ve never got any money. I used to use it all the time. I used to save up and then at Christmas, I’d take a loan out; and then throughout the year I’d pay the loan back off; and then the following Christmas I’d do the same. Last Christmas there was no money to save. Now that I can’t, I couldn’t take a loan out because I wouldn’t have had the money to pay it back. So therefore, ‘No’; that’s totally cut off from us.

123Amy had used a credit union to cover the costs of Christmas.

I’ve got credit union loans. I topped it up at Christmas, and I think it was about £1,600. I don’t know exactly what it is; but I know how much I pay them—£80 a week off one loan, and a monthly one of £160. I think I’ve got four on the go with them.

124Eileen was getting a credit union loan for Christmas, while still paying back pay-day loans and other debts.

I’ve just put in for a credit union loan that will see me over Christmas. I’ve still got one outstanding with them, and I owe £300 and something on that. But when I say ‘That will see me over Christmas’, it won’t do Christmas. And I’ve got loans for home, I think its [well-known credit service] under a different name; and I pay that £70 a week. I’m constantly turning that over. In fact probably, it only gets to about half of what I owe, and then I’m getting it back; and usually I’m getting it back [the debt] for shopping.

125For Gaynor, the credit union was the only option for a loan.

I’ve got a credit union, and I’ve had catalogues; but because of having no money, I’ve got no credit now. But I use the credit union. I go to them now.

Individual Voluntary Arrangements

126Carol and Ric had obtained an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) with help from their local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Steve and Sian had also chosen this option as they had no other way of dealing with their debt, given its size.

I’ve got all types of bills, so I’ve decided to go for an IVA. I’m in the process of getting it through now. I’ve got about £9,000 of debts since last April when I came off benefits. I have stuff coming from 2005; Council Tax that that I wasn’t aware about, I forgot about. So they’ve crept up. The bailiffs have crept up about them. It’s just an ongoing battle at the moment. So what they’ve said is that, if I could pay £100 a month for sixty months, my debts will go down to £6,000 from £9,000. I’ve got what they call a practitioner; they get around £200 to set it up but then after that is all goes to the debts.

127With no other way of paying off her debts Emma had also signed up to an agreement. It did mean however, that she was blocked from any type of credit for the future.

First I have been accepted for an IVA which is an Independent Voluntary Assessment [sic], which is regarding my Visa cards because I couldn’t afford to pay them. So now I have one payment per month of £100 which lasts for five years and in five years the debt will be written off. It’s a lot less because I don’t think I would ever have paid it off, and the minimum payment I was making was £280 per month. That was the minimum and out of that I was only paying about £40 off the actual debt. So, I’m quite pleased with that; but I’ve been to the bank to try and pay my mortgage today. But my account has been blocked by the IVA so I couldn’t pay my mortgage and because the account is in joint names you can’t use the credit cards. You are not declared bankrupt. But it comes up on every computer. I can’t buy anything on credit until five years is up.

128Families on low wages, unable to manage on their incomes, often find that they are forced to spend beyond their means. Whether that means taking on high-cost loans or going for an IVA, the consequence is an all-too-predictable downward spiral of debt. Moreover, there are no escape routes which don’t themselves add significant further strain to personal and financial circumstances in the short, medium and sometimes very long term.

Extra costs

129We have already seen how difficult it could be for some of the families to keep their homes warm. Where families had very young or sick children however, having the heating on continuously was unavoidable. This was the case for Amber.

My other son is asthmatic, severely asthmatic, and so I have to have the house warm. So the heating is normally on all the time, however much it is going to be. As I say it’s outrageous. It’s not normally that high [the most recent bill] but the past few months, with winter, it has been. But it’s what I have got to do for him. I can’t not have the heating on and him being freezing. He goes blue round the mouth; all of that.

130With a baby at home, Fiona also had to keep the house warm.

The utility bills, even though it’s a shared house and we share bills, they are ridiculous; they’re very high at the moment. I think having a baby in the house, even now she’s over one, we can’t sort of skimp on it the way you would at other times of your life. Even though our energy use on the little graph on the website says it’s about the same as last year, some of the bills are nearly a third higher than last year. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it other than gas prices.

131Chang and Jiao also prioritised having the heating on because of their young children. Their domestic fuel bills came to over £1,700 a year, more than nine percent of the family’s income.

For some things savings really cannot be made. For example, like now the weather is so cold, your heating in the house. Your children are so young, so you must have to have it on. I won’t save on those things. If it has to be used, then it must be used.

132Sian and Steve’s domestic fuel bills came to £2,340, or 9.5 percent of the annual family income. Sian had been trying to save on the cost of heating the bath water.

The kids share a bath anyway, but I get in now; when they get out I get in. You know I’m not dirty. But he [Steve] has to have a bath every night after work, because he does ground works. Pity we haven’t got a shower.


133Managing on low pay combined with the many pressures of working life for all of the families, meant a constant struggle to balance basic costs against income. Across the range of family interviews, there were stories that involved being unable to cover the essentials, debt, outstanding utility bills, Council Tax arrears, problems paying the rent and bailiffs. As we have seen, a ‘stable CPI’ notwithstanding, the standard cost-of-living measures do not meaningfully index the complex challenges of surviving and supporting a family on low pay in the UK today.

134A striking aspect of the families’ stories was the ease with which many had slid into debt. An unexpected extra cost to do with domestic utility bills, a benefit overpayment, a mistake with a pay-day loan and so on, were the sorts of pressures that had forced these families into having to borrow, and often at the highest rates of interest. Once in debt of course, and particularly considering the disadvantageous ratio of interest payments against capital repayments, escaping it was a long and difficult (and for some, impossible) task, the final costs of which by far exceeded the original loan.

135Although debt was frequently the result of additional costs over and above normal financial commitments, the reason that these had such a disproportionate effect was because of the underlying pressures of those routine living costs. Where families were just surviving from week to week, with little or no surplus to cushion against contingencies, even a relatively small extra burden could wreak havoc with the most careful budgeting.

136All the families reported that basic costs had risen in recent years. Food costs for example, were described as having become more difficult to meet. Many were struggling with the cost of heating their homes. Expenses to do with transport of all types, though essential, were described as placing an increasing burden upon already strained family finances. Frequently, the participants talked about their various ways and means of making ends meet. Pre-payment meters, though more expensive in real terms, provided one means by which bills could be avoided. Budgeting down to the last pound was crucial to managing everyday domestic expenses for all the families. There were examples of pawning anything of monetary value, including items that were precious to the family. The use of credit unions had been important to some of the families in recent years. Two families had resorted to IVAs. And yet still, despite the most stringent efforts to keep afloat financially and to avoid debt, many of the families had found that they’d had no choice but to succumb to ‘plastic’, shop-credit and door-to-door lenders to cover extra costs and even sometimes quite basic family expenses.

137Finally, the account that Terri gave the researchers, of her and her children huddling together for warmth, to avoid turning on the heating, provided a vivid image of the combined real life-effects of low pay, welfare cuts and rising costs for the lowest paid workers and their families.


1 Office for National Statistics (2015), Statistical Bulletin: Consumer Price Inflation. December,

2 Loopstra, R., Reeves, A., Taylor-Robinson, D., Barr, B., McKee, M. and Stuckler, D. (2015), ‘Austerity, Sanctions, and the Rise of Foodbanks in the UK’, British Medical Journal. 2015: 350,

3 Garthwaite, K. (2016), Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain. Policy Press, pp. 35–36.

4 Trussell Trust (2016), ‘Foodbank Use Remains at Record High, as New Data Mapping Tool Gives Fresh Insights into UK Hunger’. Press release, 12 April 2016, p. 1,

5 Trussell Trust (2017),

6 Trussell Trust (2015), The Trussell Trust’s Response to Feeding Britain’s Route Map to Ending Hunger’. Press release, 10 December 2015. Response to Forsey, A. and Mason, L. (2015), Feeding Britain in 2015–16: A Route Map to Ending Hunger as We Know It in the United Kingdom. Report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger,

7 Trussell Trust (2016), p. 2.

8 Trussell Foundation (2015), ‘Foodbank Use Tops One Million for First Time Says Trussell Trust’. Press Release, 22 April 2015,

9 Garthwaite, K. (2016), p. 83.

10 Department for Energy and Climate Change (2015), Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2015, p. 17,

11 Howard, R. (2015), Warmer Homes: Improving Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency in the UK. Poverty Exchange, p. 12,

12 Motwanie, N. (2015), ‘50% of Working Households Struggle to Heat Homes’, Turn2Us,

13 Ibid.

14 Guertler, P. and Royston, S. (2013), ‘Fact-file: Families and Fuel Poverty’. Association for the Conservation of Energy, p. 2,

15 Ibid., p. 7.

16 Barnado’s (2012), Priced Out: The Plight of Low Income Families and Young People Living in Fuel Poverty, p. 5, London,

17 Office for National Statistics (2014), Households and Household Composition in England and Wales: 2001–11,

18 Foster, D. (2016), ‘More Families Are Renting and Fewer People Ever Expect to Own a Home’. 25 February,

19 Ibid.

20 Dorling, D. (2015), All That is Solid. How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It. Penguin, p. 10.

21 Citizens’ Advice Bureau (2017), 3 January,

22 Gallagher, P. (2105) ‘Number of People Evicted from Rented Homes has Soared Since Housing Benefit Cuts Began’, The Independent. 13 August 2015,

23 Office for National Statistics (2016),

24 Rutter, J. (2015), ‘Childcare Costs Survey 2015’. Family and Childcare Trust, www. familyandchildcaretrust. org/childcare-survey-2015

25 Monaghan, A. and Goodley, S. (2014) ‘Cost of Childcare Cancels Out Pay for 1 in 10 Working Families’. The Guardian, 29 December 2014,

26 Armour, R. (2014) ‘Charity Shops Buck Trend’,,24March 2014.

27 Dobcheva, Z. (2015), ‘Credit Unions in the UK—Balancing Social Benefit with Economic Viability’. Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management. Briefing Paper BP9/2015, August.

28 COOP News (2017),

29 BBC (2017),

30 Osborne, H. (2015), ‘New Consumer Debt Reaches Seven Year High in UK’, The Guardian, 3 January 2015.

31 Coles, S. (2013) ‘The Horrifying New Trend in Pay-day Loans’. AOL Money, 24 December 2013.

32 Sure Start centres provide community support for families living in deprived areas. Decreases in Central Government funding has led to the closures of hundreds of Sure Start centres in recent years.

33 Individual Voluntary Arrangements are a legal alternative to personal bankruptcy. Regular payments to creditors are agreed by mediation via an insolvency practitioner.

34 Human resources.

Table des illustrations

Légende Three day emergency food supplies. Trussell Trust 2017.5
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