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Just Managing?

Mark O'Brien
Paul Kyprianou

Part II: The big issues

6. Home and Family Life

Texte intégral

A roof over your head

1A sense of struggle pervaded the accounts that were given of working life and the need to ‘hold down the job’ by the families. Nowhere was this ‘sense of struggle’ more keenly expressed however, than when the families spoke of ‘house and home’. Indeed, the home was often the place about which the families conveyed the greatest sense of effort and commitment. Home and family after all are the things that people will usually invest the most in, materially, emotionally and psychologically for themselves and for their children. For the same reasons, they are also the things also about which people can feel the greatest frustrations and disappointments.

2A home must above all feel and be secure and stable, for family life not to be filled with uncertainty and anxiety. For that, housing status is of critical importance. In the UK, unlike many countries in Western Europe there isn’t a culture of, or legislative framework for long-term rental letting. Normally, contracts are of no more than six months’ or one year’s duration. Contract security was also reduced with the introduction of the ‘assured shorthold tenancy’ by the 1988 Housing Act. This created a type of tenancy that removed minimum time restrictions upon landlords if they wished to evict occupants, and reduced the notice period for termination.

3The impermanence of housing tenancies for many thousands of families in the UK, is unconducive to maintaining a happy and stress-free home-life. Considering the importance of home stability, it is a concern now that there is a marked increase in the proportion of families living in the privately rented sector. Along with the problem of having to move far more frequently than those on higher incomes who can maintain home-ownership, these families have also faced difficulties caused by rents that have risen significantly over recent years. So, whilst home-owners have benefitted from historically low interest rates keeping mortgages relatively stable, the growing numbers of families who rent have not been so lucky.

  • 1 Department for Communities and Local Government (2015), English Housing survey-Households 2013–14, (...)
  • 2 Ibid., p. 27.

4House prices have continued to rise annually for more than a decade. Over the same period the supply of housing provided by local authorities and other social landlords has become more limited. One reason for this is the long-term decline in house building by local authorities. Another has been consistent policy shifts by successive governments towards the marketisation of housing provision that began in the 1980s. The 1980 Housing Act introduced ‘right-to-buy’ under which council tenants could own the property they had previously rented. The 1988 Housing Act made possible the large-scale voluntary transfer of tenants over to housing associations following a ballot. These measures, combined with the removal of rent control, the erosion of rent subsidies in relation to market values and the diversification of tenancies away from long-term and life-time tenancies, have conspired to significantly reduce the protection that social housing historically represented for families living on low incomes. So, in 1981, 5.5 million households (32 percent) were in the socially rented sector.1 By 2014, 2.3 million (ten percent) were renting from a housing association, and just 1.6 million (seven percent) were renting from a Local Authority.2

  • 3 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (2015), UK Economic Outlook, ‘UK Housing Market Outlook: The Continuing Ri (...)

5The result has been a spectacular expansion in the number of households in the privately rented sector, the proportion rising sharply from 2003 onwards. The financial crisis of 2007 abruptly halted easy credit, resulting in greater difficulty in raising deposits and borrowing for many who otherwise could have afforded to buy their own homes. From the early 2000s to 2016, the numbers living in privately rented homes more than doubled to 5.4 million, or twenty percent of the total. This figure is likely to rise to 7.2 million, or one quarter of the total, by 2025. Within this trend it is younger households, especially those in the 20–39 age range that are the most affected. By 2025 more than half of those in this age bracket will be renting.3

  • 4 Belfield, C. Chandler, D. and Joyce, R. (2015), ‘Housing: Trends in Prices, Costs and Tenure’, Nuf (...)

6With this trend comes a turn also in the statistics for ‘floor-space-per-person’, that started to decrease for households in the privately rented sector during the 2000s, as overcrowding began once more to characterise home-life for many in the worst financial circumstances. Alongside this, there has been an increase over the last decade of more than a third in the numbers of multiple family units sharing the same household.4 Since 2013, these trends have intensified with the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ that means cuts to Housing Benefit for those who remain in properties with one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms. Overall, the combined effects of rising total costs of renting a home, downward pressures and caps on benefits and the erosion of security of tenancies has resulted predictably in soaring rates of eviction.

National average rental prices since 2011.
Office for National Statistics.5

  • 6 Foster, D. (2015), ‘Eviction is the Last Refuge for Poor Tenants’, The Guardian, 18 February 2016.

7A historic high for eviction rates was reached in 2015. During that year 42,728 households in rented accommodation (170 people a day) in England and Wales were evicted: the highest figure since records began in 2000.6 Driven by steadily rising rental prices and cuts to housing benefit support, another historic high was reached in 2016, when record numbers of families lost their homes with nowhere to go, each following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy.

Paying for the kids

  • 7 Davies, E. (2015), ‘Cost of School Uniform 2015’, Department for Education. June, (...)
  • 8 Knight, K. ‘Forget the Local Museum! How Far-flung School Trips Costing up to £3,000 are Leaving P (...)

8Whilst maintaining a secure home for the family is a constant challenge for low income families, the financial burden of raising children has also become heavier over the last decade. The costs of school uniforms, sports strips and school dinners are things that those on the very lowest incomes can obtain support for. However, with thresholds set low, those who narrowly miss eligibility struggle to meet these costs. Specifically, in relation to school uniforms a government-funded survey in 2015 found that eighteen percent of parents said they had suffered financial hardship because of purchasing their child’s school uniform.7 Another survey of parents conducted the same year by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers found that school trips were too expensive for more than a third of parents.8

  • 9 The Children’s Commission on Poverty (2014), At What Cost? Exposing the Impact of Poverty on Schoo (...)

9For those in work, breakfast club fees, after-school club fees and items with school-logos, often add significant extra financial difficulties. In its 2014 report, the Children’s Commission on Poverty concluded that the combined effect of these and other types of school-related costs means that ‘free education’ is far from being the reality for the poorest families. The Commission’s research showed that more than two thirds of families struggle to afford the costs of school; rising to 95 percent of those who were ‘not at all well-off’. More than half said they had cut back on clothing (47 percent), food (27 percent) or heating (29 percent) to meet these costs. A quarter of parents, and more than half of those who were ‘not at all well-off’, said they had borrowed money to pay for school expenses.9

10With respect to ‘clothing the kids’, the intense influences of advertising and celebrity culture upon children and their demands for brand named goods only add to the problems faced by working families; bringing also the psychological strain of trying to meet children’s expectations. These pressures become particularly intense on the approach to Christmas. In December 2015, research by the Money Advice Trusts National Debtline revealed that 23 percent of parents felt under pressure to spend more than they could afford for Christmas. Thirty-five percent said that they would be relying on borrowing to cover their Christmas costs.

Staying healthy

  • 10 NHS Choices (2016), ‘NHS in England—Help with Health Costs’,

11Whilst the corner-stone of the National Health Service (NHS) is its commitment to health care that is ‘free at the point of use’, a range of essential care services are subject to charges. Prescription drugs, sight tests, prescription glasses and dental treatment (in three bands of treatment type) all bring a cost to the user. A range of exemptions protect school-aged children, young people up to the age of eighteen years in full-time education, the over-60s, pregnant women, those on benefits and those on very low incomes. Some items are always free, for example: medication from an NHS walk-in centre; medication to treat a sexually transmitted disease or tuberculosis; prescribed contraceptives; and medication for mental disorders.10 Specifically with respect to income, full exemptions apply for treatment and essential travel where the costs of required care or treatment exceed income; or where income exceeds the costs of care by no more than half of the standard prescription charges.

12Under the NHS Low-income Scheme costs may be partially covered with eligibility broadly following the criteria used for means-tested benefits (but also considering housing costs). Those who do not fall within the very narrow qualifying thresholds however, must pay. So, whilst children, pregnant women, state pensioners and other groups don’t have to pay for their prescriptions, this is not the case for many working adults on low pay. Although prescription charges have been done away with in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, they still exist in England. Prescription charges increased by 20p in April 2014 to £8.05, with the cost of an annual prescription plan going to £104; or £29.10 for three months. At the same time, dental charges increased by up to £5.

  • 11 Jones, N., Conklin, A., Suhrcke, M. and Monsivai, P. (2014), ‘The Growing Price Gap between More a (...)

13Public health information from the NHS promotes healthy lifestyles that reduce the risks of health problems. The importance of ‘eating-healthy’ particularly is a central message. However, repeated government campaigns (and celebrity chef exhortations) notwithstanding, the truth is that many millions who live in the lowest paid working families, cannot afford a healthy diet. Supermarket ‘healthy options’ are consistently more expensive than less healthy alternatives. Moreover, the gap between the price of a healthy diet and that of an unhealthy one, continues to grow wider. The greatest gaps exist at corner shops, where many poorer families will shop for food because they cannot afford the transport costs of travelling to supermarkets. These trends clearly raise concerns for long-term structural health inequalities.11

14We have seen that the stresses of maintaining a stable and secure home as well as meeting the costs of raising children, place an enormous strain on parents. For many this strain reaches the limit of what can be sustained without beginning to affect the health and wellbeing of family members; and for some it becomes intolerable. In her research into the lives of families living in poverty for her 2014 book Austerity Bites, Mary O’Hara discovered just how harrowing the experience was for many. O’Hara commented upon the emerging crisis being caused by the strain of struggling to cope for those most affected by government cuts:

  • 12 O’Hara, M. (2014), Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK. Policy Press, p. (...)

Throughout the time I was interviewing people, news reports of mental distress, suicides or attempted suicides connected to austerity and cuts came thick and fast. Even taking into account the necessary caution about exaggerating causal links, it seemed that something extreme was happening as individuals affected and their families called on the government to acknowledge the pressures pushing people to a mental edge. 12

  • 13 O’Hara, M. (2015), ‘Cut Off: How Austerity Relates to Our Mental Health’. New Statesman, 6 October
  • 14 Mental Health Network (2014), ‘Key Facts and Trends in Mental Health: 2014 Update’, NHS Confederat (...)

15Each year around a quarter of the UK population suffer from mental health problems, with ‘mixed anxiety and depression’ being the most common type. The statistics for mental illness took a sharp turn for the worse following the financial crisis of 2007 and the introduction of ‘austerity’ by the 2010–2015 Coalition Government. In 2011 alone, the prescription of anti-depressants rose by 43 percent on the previous year. In the same period, mental health help-line services reported that calls citing debt rose significantly.13 There is a strong correlation between household income and the risk of mental illness. This link is especially pronounced amongst men; men in the lowest income group being three times more likely than those in the highest income group to have a mental health problem (23.5 percent and 8.8 percent respectively). A link also exists between mental illness and housing tenure. Those renting their homes are 50 percent more likely to suffer poor mental health than home-owners.14

  • 15 Hall, S. and Perry, C. (2013), Family Matters: Understanding Families in an Age of Austerity. Fami (...)
  • 16 Hannon, C. (2013), Living Precariously: Families in an Age of Austerity. Family and Childcare Trus (...)

16For those living under the kinds of pressure described here, one source of personal resilience is their network of family and friends. The social relationships upon which people depend for comfort and material and psychological support however, are not themselves invulnerable to the harmful effects of those same pressures. During times when money is short, the use of the ‘family bank’ is a necessary fall-back for many who are struggling to survive. This inevitably puts added pressure on family relationships.15 Considering the costs of child-care, couples living on a low income and unable to afford nursery fees, will often use ‘tag-parenting’ between their periods of work, which then places strain on their relationship.16

  • 17 Relate (2013), How is Austerity Affecting Our Relationships? Relationships: Our Support Systems in (...)

17In a large-scale survey the personal relationships service Relate found that 93 percent of respondents said their relationships with their partner and family were important when times were hard, and 59 percent said they turn to their partner to share their worries. However, 52 percent said that they were worried about having the money for everyday costs (food, housing and household bills) and 38 percent said that their concerns had a negative impact on their family relationships. The report also identified a ‘sandwich generation’ of those in the 40–59-year age range, who find that they must support both children and elderly parents as life-expectancy increases, and suffer high levels of stress as a result.17

  • 18 Power, A., Willmot, H. and Davidson, R. (2011), p.

18The stresses of working and family responsibilities combined, can have a terrible impact upon the stability of family and social relationships and overall quality-of-life and the stability of relationships.18 The strain of never being able to relax about money and constantly having to manage bills and debts whilst on a low and often insecure income, can affect all family members. When these pressures are compounded by complications such as illness, loss of full-time employment or paid hours, unforeseen expenses and so on, the toll they take can push those affected towards personal collapse. That scenario of course also brings frightening potential consequences of family breakdown, mental illness, distress and psychological harm to adults and children alike. For many of the people who took part in the research, their struggle in life was precisely to avoid this eventuality for themselves and their children.

Family voices


19Amber was living in a privately rented property. She didn’t have a tenancy agreement and her landlord had recently told her that he was putting the property up for sale. Over a short period, she had seen her rent increase from about £400 to £600 a month. She was very clear why this has happened.

There’s not been much social housing available; so I think it’s like people are forced into not buying [but] renting privately. And the private landlord knows this; and they bump their prices up.

20It isn’t simply the high cost of rent that’s an issue for families in the private sector. Joy for example was spending more than a third of her income on rent; over £6,500 a year. She’d had to find a large deposit when she moved into her property and now the landlord was pressurising her to sign and pay for a new tenancy agreement. She was reluctant to do so because of his failure to deal with the damp and repairs that the property required.

I haven’t got £50 to pay at the moment, just to pay out for paperwork; but even when I moved in I had to pay for all the checks. It ends up as well over £1,000 before I can move in. And that was what got me in debt with my overdraft, because I had to pay my rent a month in advance, and then all of the paperwork costs as well which was a ridiculous amount. And now they want £50 each time they renew it. So, every six months they want £50 just to sign a piece of paper. I’ve been here for eighteen months and there’s things that I’ve asked for. So I’m not going to sign any more until they’ve done the work that needs to be done. It’s just been like ongoing problems like damp in my bedroom. I’m not going to sign another contract; plus I haven’t got the £50.

21Eileen was spending over a quarter of her income on her privately rented property which was costing over £7,000 a year. She had struggled to find the deposit and this resulted in a debt that she was still paying off.

I’ve always been chasing that deposit ever since, because I had to find £1,100 to move. I borrowed it from a glorified loan shark. Well, legalised loan shark, a Provident organisation. So, I’ve been chasing that ever since.

22Living in overcrowded conditions, Amy had been trying to move from her social housing to a privately rented home. However, the costs involved had been too high.

I was looking at ‘private’, to move, because my landlord’s saying that my house is too small a size for the five of us. But the rent was just too much. It was like £1,100, and that was only a parlour house.

23Carol’s and Ric’s rent had doubled in the seven years they had been living in social housing. Their conditions were also overcrowded but they didn’t feel they could afford to move to a four-bedroom house; particularly as one of the children was possibly about to leave to go to college. There were also the up-front costs of moving that the family would have had to cover.

Even just to hire the van to move, if I was offered somewhere. Apart from anything else, you’ve got to rely on friends and family and things like that. The place needs decorating right through. It needs painting and as long as I’ve lived here we’ve never even had a carpet in my bedroom. The kids have got theirs; but I’ve never had a carpet. I’ve got rugs down; bits of old rugs, because I can’t afford to buy a carpet. Things like that; and again it’s not something I want to get in debt for. All my furniture, everything you see in the room, apart from the telly which we’ve just bought, has been passed on from my Mum and Dad. Nothing, not one item here have I actually gone out and bought.

Security of tenure

24Housing conditions for the families in privately rented property are generally of poorer quality than those in social housing, and their tenancies are less secure. Eileen had been having difficulties with her landlord which highlighted the housing insecurity that private renters can face. The family had lived in their home for more than four years, and had never fallen into arrears. However, the landlord now wanted the property back. To terminate the tenancy, he only had to declare that his ‘circumstances had changed’, without providing any further explanation. Eileen believed that the real reason he wanted to sell the property was to take advantage of a dramatic increase in the value of local housing.

I got an email saying basically the landlord wants his house back so ‘Get out; and you’ve got two months!’ That was four months ago; so things are getting a bit fraught. I’m getting a few knocks on my door. I wouldn’t go as far as to say heavies; but it’s getting a bit threatening. You know, ‘You need to get out’. I did explain to them that I did have rights and I knew what my rights were, and they laughed and walked away; which is a bit threatening and a bit intimidating, I believe. It’s two men from the letting agency that look after the house and, quite frankly, they’re gangsters. They only deal in cash; you have to go to a shop front with £550 in an envelope; your rent every month. If you’re two days late, you get a threatening phone call; and, when I say ‘threatening phone call’, it’s: ‘Where are you?’; ‘You should have been here with your rent’; ‘If you’ re not here by the end of the week, we’ll be looking for your house back’.

25The tension and anxiety this was causing affected the children as well as Eileen herself.

The kids are upset. ‘Mum there’s a knock; there’s a knock’. I said ‘Don’t worry about it; answer the door’. But when I come in, if they’re home from work or school, they come in and pull the blinds straight down and won’t answer the door to anybody. And I hate them being like that; but I can understand why they’re being like that. I keep telling them not to worry, and yet I’m not sleeping at night. I probably had about two hours sleep last night, worrying about it myself. But I’m trying to keep upbeat.

Housing conditions

26Families in privately rented accommodation sometimes struggle to get the landlords to do necessary repairs. Terri’s house had a hole in the bedroom ceiling, as well as damp.

I have just had a text message, and I am getting my repairs done. He said ‘I’ll be out the next day to do that’; and he hasn’t. It is still like that now. So, I showed him that [the damp] and then he came to see the leak in my bedroom. It’s still like that in my bedroom [a hole in the ceiling and damp].

27Colette’s landlord had told her that she would have to pay him to get the damp treated in her rented property.

My house is damp. I have got damp patches in my kids’ room that are growing. I’ve got to pay him before I can get out. He’s given me a new boiler only because last winter I was left without heat for two weeks; and that wasn’t my fault.

28Tammy and Malcolm had repeatedly raised several issues with their landlord over the condition of their accommodation. They had been left waiting for repairs to deal with problems such as the spread of green mould throughout the property. They believed the landlord to be living abroad and were having to deal with a letting agency.

We’ve got the Environmental Health coming out because the landlord is doing nothing. Someone said that if we report it to the City Council they’ll do something about it, and come out and do all the jobs that need doing, because it’s a massive priority with having kids, and they’ll send him the bill. They’ll give him the option first to do the job within seven days. In the long run, he is better-off doing the job himself.

Social housing

29Eileen had been offered social housing, thanks to the intervention of her local councillor. Things went wrong however, when she mentioned that in the past she had been subject to a Housing Benefit investigation.

  • 19 Chief executive officer.

It’s now gone to the CEO 19 [of the housing association] and he’s going to meet with me and my local councillor; it was a huge mistake. I mentioned that fact, and because of that I was refused the house—by a social landlord! I don’t think so! I showed them the letters and one said I owed £8,000 and two days later I got a letter saying ‘It’ s not £8,000, it’s £800’. Then the week after they said ‘You owe £249’ and stopped my Housing Benefit. I’ve had no Housing Benefit for three months. I wouldn’t go near them. I would rather struggle.

Eileen had by this point signed the contract for a privately rented house. The property had no floor coverings and she was going to have to find the money for carpets. The rent, however, was considerably more at £550 a month, compared to £313. She pointed out the obstacles caused by debt for those needing to rent.

Them [a social landlord] doing credit checks! Who’s going to get a house if they are doing credit checks? Very few people haven’t got debt or problems with debts; surely then they’d buy their own house.

31Liam and Grace had found their social landlord to be far too ready to take court action for rent arrears. Liam was being paid monthly; however, the rent had to be paid weekly and Grace was finding it difficult budgeting to do this.

October was the worst month ever, it was five weeks and it was a terrible struggle, and what it was, she’d [a social landlord officer] come ‘round and said I hadn’ t paid it; but I had paid it and it doesn’t clear on their account until the next week. But she still put court proceedings through, even though I’d paid. She wouldn’t take my word for it that I’d paid. Now if I’d ever owed money at the most it would be £300 and then it gets cleared. But I pay it; it’s never left to mount, never. But she still put court proceedings through. Now I could have been evicted and I thought ‘Why have you done that?’ So, I got a letter and I phoned them up and put in a complaint.

32The condition of their social housing, and ongoing problems with damp particularly, had been an issue for Micha and Karolina. Karolina believed the social landlord had been reluctant to do necessary repairs because of the expense involved.

The house that we moved into, there was damp previously; we knew there was. It’s been treated but we only moved into this house 4–5 months ago; but it’s started to show up even in the kitchen, in the cupboards, damp, black spots, where I’ve got my plates. As far as I know, for now, the landlord doesn’t want to do anything about it; and my daughter has had a cough for a month.

The neighbourhood

33The families had contrasting views about the neighbourhoods in which they lived; and different experiences of the level of community support around them. Amy and Sian’s comments captured this contrast.

People have been trampled on and finding it hard to come back. Where I live, people are community-minded and pull together. They have swop-shops; people coming in who can’t afford to buy clothes. It’s like a jumble sale. But it shouldn’t have to be like that. You’ve got your foodbanks, and people shouldn’t be living like that. The communities have pulled together to make sure that the service is there for people who are struggling.

The old community spirit’s gone. People are really negative, and they’re down; don’t know where to go. How do you turn that round?

There was more agreement amongst the families over the impact that cuts in community services were having on working households. Gaynor had seen a decline in her area, and blamed the Government.

Yeah, like the Sure Start centres; most of them have gone. They’ve just cut the resource centre where the adults with learning difficulties go every day. The library’s going; they’re trying to get rid of the lollipop ladies and men; trying to get shut of them. But these are things that people need. Like there used to be a group I used to go to: it’s like confidence building and health and well-being for women. Just little groups like that that they used to put on. They used to be free, but its £25 a session now, which is quite expensive. They used to have sessions for like post-natal depression and stuff like that, for people who would self-harm. They used to do relaxation classes, and some people need that. Some people need to get out and maybe talk to someone, and these are the type of groups that we need around here. There’s nothing like that around here anymore. Yeah, they just keep taking things away and people put forward ideas, but they just keep getting knocked back all the time.

34Denise was aware of services that were under direct threat due to the cuts in her own area.

Yes, well the baths was threatened to be closed down, but we’ve turned that round and it’s being kept open. Schools and everything were getting threatened, weren’t they? But they seem to have not done it; they all still seem to be open.

35Sue’s neighbourhood had lost a local library and a swimming pool and had seen cuts to projects supporting young people, including one that helped one of her own children.

  • 20 A government funded agency supporting young people into the world of work.

They have just closed down all the Connexions 20 haven’t they? That was like a service for young people. It helped me with my girls getting apprenticeships. Yeah, yeah there were a couple ‘round here, and they were brilliant. That’s gone and I do think it’s the government [to blame].

36The medical centre that Luke’s mother had been using had stopped providing an interpreter. This was causing problems for the family because the alternative—a phone-based interpretation services—didn’t work for them.

The hospitals still have interpreters, but the GPs don’t provide that anymore; only a ‘language line’. So maybe my Mum sometimes needs to see a GP; I need to take time off my holiday, to take her or my grandmother to see the GP.

37Like many of the families, Grace directed her anger at the Government.

The children’s centre is getting closed down; it wasn’t generating enough money. But they don’t have anything on for the kids to generate any money. They just want to take everything off here. They’re not pumping any money into anywhere. It’s like the Government are just taking and taking, and giving themselves these pay advances.

The ‘bedroom tax’

38Denise and her three children had been living in the same four-bedroom house for four years. She had to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ and had been unsuccessful in getting a discretionary housing payment towards this. She knew that she would have to find a smaller house. However, with two boys and a girl she was also aware they would need their own rooms as they were getting older, and so was reluctant to move. Even though she was in receipt of Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit these did not make up the loss from the under-occupation charge reduction on her Housing Benefit, and so found herself in arrears.

Well just at the minute, I’ve been put back and don’t have to pay until March. I just have to pay the housing arrears. I was like £700 in arrears with the housing, so I couldn’t get any repairs done, nothing at all. Now I’ve paid them, well I’m paying a fiver a week, bit by bit. I could have been homeless to be honest.

39Denise was by this point paying her rent arrears off at the rate of £18.50 a week, £13.50 of which was for the ‘bedroom tax’. She’d been successful in getting the payments postponed. She explained that moving to a smaller house wasn’t an option because she couldn’t afford the costs of the move.

You know they want me to move, but it’s not as easy as that. I said to them ‘Are you going to give me the money for the move? You going to get me the money for all the furniture, new carpets? No, so I’m not moving then’. So, I have to struggle and pay that. Now I’m glad that I’ve won that little bit of appeal back; only until March, but it’s something isn’t it? You know, they’re going to want it again in March; but I’ll just have to work my way ‘round it somehow. It’ s a lot of money. Basically, they’ve said I’ve got to start paying it again in March. That’s all I know. Every little helps in the meantime. Don’t get me wrong, it’s helping me quite a lot. But I don’t agree with it. I think it’s disgusting. I really do.

Clothing growing children

40Like most children as they grow older, Ruth’s children wanted to be wearing the same styles and brands as their peers. At the same time, she had to find the money for clothes for an activity one of the children was involved in, and ‘proper’ shoes for another child’s first job interview. Nearly ten percent of the family income was spent on clothing and shoes.

Well, basically we’ve been going without. At the minute we will go without, you know. Where previously, I have just gone out and bought my kids’shoes, if they needed a pair of shoes. Now I’m having to wait until I get paid. I can’t just go and put it on my card, you know what I mean. Normally, I would just go and take my bank account card and put it on my card. But at the moment I can’t. I’ve got to wait for money to go in before it’s available to spend.

41Children’s clothing and shoes were two of the things that Sian and Steve were having the most difficulty finding the money for.

So we don’t really spend that much; it’s food really, or something happens. They need shoes. Our [daughter] needs a new ‘pinny, a school ‘pinny, she’s grown already. So it’s stuff like that. The white shirts constantly; my little boy’s always rolling round in the mud, and you can’t get the stains off the white shirts. So constantly those things you’ve got to buy.

42The speed at which children grow out of their clothes was something that Colette knew only too well, and something she couldn’t afford to deal with.

The biggest demand at the moment actually is that I can’t really afford clothes and shoes. They have both had a growth spurt. Unfortunately, they are both going to have to wait a couple of weeks, you know what I mean, until I can put a bit of money from this week aside for the following week, to then go to the shops. I just haven’t got it spare at the moment.

43Amber’s children had also recently gone through growth spurts which meant a big expense on top everything else.

I have had to replace the children’s clothes. As I say, they’re at an age where they just suddenly grow, and I have had to do a full wardrobe revamp on the three of them. It cost about £600 for all of it.

44Denise had three young children and keeping them properly clothed was a continual struggle.

Well they always need something; if it’s not shoes or a coat, it’s clothes. It’s awful.

45For Luke, the expense of having two babies and his wife being on maternity leave meant using what savings remained to buy things the children needed.

I did not realise that I had that many expenses. I spend quite a lot on the food and on the babies, their clothes, and so that’s a bit of a surprise. Because I’m not in that much control of my budget, maybe sometimes I overspend my money. It’s quite difficult because for the kids, you’ve got to spend it, there’s no choice. That’s why I said in the last two years, because of the two children, all my family’s savings will be gone. So maybe it’s a difficult time if my wife doesn’t get a job in the future.

46Chang and Jiao relied mainly on getting hand-me-downs from other family members.

Buying? I would rarely buy for her [their daughter]. But if it’s her birthday, or if her clothes don’t fit anymore, then I would buy one or two for her. Normally, they are relatives’ sons and daughters whose clothes don’t fit anymore, and save for her [to wear].

School uniforms

47Many schools still require their pupils to wear expensive badged uniforms. As Ruth explained, she could have purchased relatively inexpensive items of school uniform from the local supermarket. However, she had to buy the specific items the school required. She also had to buy the correct, and so more expensive, items of sports-kit.

They are the ones that have been like catching me; because I have to go out and I have to get new shoes for football, because he can’t go to football if they don’t fit him. So it’s £17; I think it is £17 for a school jumper also.

48Chang and Jiao had been able to buy school uniform items from a supermarket for their young child.

But for buying uniform for her; I’m really embarrassed to say that I have never bought a proper one; a proper uniform for her. Now maybe this school isn’t very strict and the supermarket does sell uniforms; and the school haven’t requested you have to have their school badge. So buying is relatively cheap.

49Terri was having to find cheaper options than the uniform requirements stipulated by the school.

It’s so hard. They have school polo shirts with an emblem. I haven’t bought them because I can’t afford them. So they’ve got a black men’s one from [well-known low cost clothing store] for £3. It’s terrible, finding the cheapest of everything.

50The cost of shoes for school had been a problem.

I mean, my daughter came in the other day and her shoes have cracked right across the sole; and I went to her ‘Have you got a pair upstairs you can use? ’She’ll be getting black ones for Christmas, which is only in two weeks’ time. So, she found a pair and I said ‘Wear them, because I can’t afford now and Christmas’. She said, ‘OK Mum’. They are so good like that.

51Grace made a similar point about the expense of shoes.

The shoes are £40 each. So, by the time you get them, before they go back in September, in the holidays I go and get them all their school shoes to go back to school. They need to have shoes. The shoes fall apart after a few weeks; so, I had to go and get them black trainers then, because they last a bit longer. And one’s in a size four which is adult prices for shoes; and he’s only eleven! So, you can’t win, can you?

52Phil and Dot were finding it difficult to meet the cost of their child’s new school uniform as she moved to senior school.

She’s going into seniors’ this year, in September. We’ve just been told there’s another expense coming in now, of a school uniform. That’s about £200-odd; we don’t get any help for that. Generally we’ll try and go to charity shops; things like that; maybe the [well-known supermarket] as well. But we don’t go to any of these upmarket things. We can’t afford to do that.

53Janet had been fortunate that her mother could help.

My Mum helped me out a little bit; uniforms. That was a big part as well, because I had to come home to make sure all the uniforms were there; money I haven’t got. [Younger daughter]’s was easy: [refers to two well-known supermarket chains]. But it cost me over £300 for [older daughter]’s uniform; bearing in mind it’s her last year as well. I could have done without it. She was trying to wear her old shoes to go back to school, but she got new ones in the end.

School dinners

54School meals were just one of the expenses that Amy was struggling with. She missed the help that the School Uniform Grant had provided to families on low incomes, before it was cut. Now, the loss of the support the grant had provided added to the financial burden of other school-related costs.

They stopped the ‘uniform grant’. It costs me £5 a day to send [daughter] to school at the moment; so, it will cost me £10 a day. She gets a bus ticket, which they’ve recently reduced. They do a £2 ticket now, whereas she used to have to get a weekly bus pass from [the bus company] which was £11 a week. But again, the £2 a day-ticket and £3 for her dinner; she has school dinners. I’m going to try and look into whether they are eligible for bus passes. I actually went into it. It was a couple of years ago actually, when they were in junior school. And I went in and asked them and she said ‘Do you get Working Tax Credit?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’, and she said, ‘They’ve changed it all. If you get Working Tax Credit you’re not entitled to free school meals’.

55Janet was also struggling with the costs of school dinners.

I can’t afford the school dinners anymore; so it’s trying to put them on packed lunches. But by the time you do for two or three of them, it works out the same anyway. So you’ve got two kids saying ‘I don’t want packed lunches; I want hot dinners’. That’s £16, then you’ve got one saying ‘Oh I don’t like the school dinners, I want packed lunch’.

Out-of-school activities

56Families in low paid employment are restricted in what they can do with their children out-of-school, as well as during school holidays. Sian explained how this limited the options for the family.

So our days out are kind of ‘go for a walk around Sefton Park’, rather than going out to spend money on any type of shows and activities. It would be literally after tea going out for a walk and get their scooters.

57Similarly Carol and Ric would always try to do things that were free with their children.

We’ll go and do something with the kids, but it will mean that we’ll have to go somewhere that’s free basically; go to the museum or something. I couldn’t afford to take them bowling or anything like that.

58Denise’s children were all involved in out-of-school activities and she talked about how the costs add up.

The kids have all got their hobbies, and they cost a lot. By the time you’ve bought their kits. They do majorettes the girls, and the boys do football. At the moment it’s not too bad as there’s no dancing on until April. Then there’s twenty weeks when the girls dance out; and then you’re talking coach fares and stuff like that. Thirty pounds to let them go dancing. So, every week for twenty weeks. That’s really horrendous that.

59After-school activities can represent a significant cost. Phoebe’s children were members of sports teams, but they wouldn’t have been able to participate without sponsorship.

The membership for them was £60 a month for the three of them. Luckily we’ve just been given sponsorship for the three kids. Otherwise we would have had to pull them out.

60Liz was finding it difficult to meet the costs of her child’s out-of-school activities.

His after-school clubs; they’re the only other things, but they’re not cheap. They say to you its only £40! Only! You have them for an hour after-school! I don’t put him in anything like breakfast club. But in the half-terms he goes to Little League. So I have to pay for that; because my Mum and Dad would go grey if they had him for a week; because he’s hard work. So he goes to Little League for three days; and that’s £25 to £30.

61Fiona was being helped by her parents.

I’m very lucky because my Mum and Dad pay for a lot of activities for the girls as presents and things. But it’s not money that comes from me. But it makes you feel quite bad actually, that you can’t afford to give them the opportunities. But I know I’m lucky to have that.

62Brenda was struggling to find the money to pay for her children’s out-of-school activities and was also relying on help from her family.

My son, you know he’s doing more activities and he does basketball and he’s got fees. So I’m just kind of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ kind of thing. I can’t afford to do anything really. Maybe just go to the park for days out; things like that. I’m going to be struggling with child-care over the summer holidays. I’m struggling with child-care as it is now. You know I’m having to rely on the family to be able to look after the kids.

63Brenda For Karolina and Micha, taking time off work with their young daughter was the problem. Their daughter was attending a Sure Start Children’s Centre.

She just missed a trip on Saturday because there was a trip for dads which was good. So, I said to Micha ‘Just don’t go to work on Saturday, just take her for a trip’. I’ve booked a place, because it was only for dads so I couldn’t go anyway and I was in work. Because you know, he’s working that many hours, so he doesn’t spend much time with her. It was a trip to the farm. But then because she wasn’t well, I just had to cancel it. So, I’ve missed my overtime on Friday.


64The families found it hard to afford pocket-money for the children. Janet explained how her family helped her.

They just have to save, my Mum and Dad kind of give. She’s got a godmother who gives her some money. So, she tries to save her own money. My other daughter gets some money from my Mum and Dad. They don’t get pocketmoney; they just get what they need, if they need it.

65It was a similar situation for Carol and Ric with their children.

No, nothing at all. The jar of coppers; the coppers go in and my Mother-in-law and my Mum both do the same; put the coppers in the jar. And they go to the kids when its summer holidays and things like that.

66Sian also couldn’t afford to give her children pocket-money and was helped out by the children’s grandparents.

My Nan spoils them rotten. She gives them pocket-money. I don’t give them pocket-money. My Nan gives them £2.50 a week; we haven’t seen her for a fortnight so it’s going to be £5 each; so, then we’re going shopping. I can say, ‘That’s your money. I’m not giving you a penny more!’ So, in the end they do get money.

67Phil and Dot were having to find more for their daughter’s pocket-money each week since she had moved to senior school, and was wanting to buy things herself.

She gets £2 a week pocket-money. Obviously that’s going to have to go up soon. She complains about the money; she wants things. We’ll be in the shopping centre and she sees something, and we have to say ‘You can’ t have that’. So, what we’ll do is pass it off with some sweets or something, but that’s instead of what she wants, you know what I mean.

68Don and Terri’s children knew that their parents didn’t have money to spare.

Other than that they know we struggle, they know. I mean the kids ask for a pound every morning. I have a moneybox and I say to them ‘See what you can get out of that. If you can get a pound each, have a pound each’. Some mornings they only get 50p but they are made up. I don’t know many kids that are made up with 50p.


The TV

70Televisions that operate with a pay-as-you-go meter provide an alternative to having to pay up front for a set. However, this is an expensive option. Over the previous year it had cost Eileen £800, whereas the cost of buying a set would normally have been half that figure.

It was somebody who came knocking at the door with a brochure; and you know when your kids have only got a small portable telly in the corner and you think ‘Yeah, sounds great’. The meter’s on the back of the TV so you get four hours for a pound (can you believe that still goes on?) But they wouldn’t give anybody in my position credit. So I couldn’t go to [well-known retailer] and go ‘Give me that TV which is only £300 and I’ll pay for it monthly’, because they just wouldn’t. You’ve got to go and pay the top whack.

Family occasions and Christmas

71Family occasions and religious celebrations (Christmas in particular) brought an additional strain to budgets that were already overstretched. Jenny was trying to save for Christmas, but found each year to be more difficult than the last.

Well, any money that I do have left like, if it’s one week and I have like £5 or £10 left, I have got a post office card which I go and put on for Christmas. Like last year and the year before, and all the years before. I’ve got myself into a big mess over Christmas; and it takes me forever to try and get myself back out of it.

72Jenny was trying to limit the cost of presents by just buying for the children. She also was also keeping festive costs down by staying at her mother’s house over the Christmas period. Her uncle helped by buying clothes for birthdays, some of which could be held back for Christmas.

I go to my Mum’s. Things like her [daughter’s] Christmas clothes and things like that. It’s her birthday in October and my uncle always buys her clothes for her birthday because he never buys her toys. So I always keep two sets of what he buys her for her birthday and for Christmas.

73The pressure of costs associated with Christmas made it more a ‘season of dread’ than celebration for families like Amy’s.

Christmas is horrendous. It costs me about £10–12 per child for different activities: the pantomime; Christmas parties; Christmas lunch. There’s quite a few things, and it’s very expensive.

74Joy’s experience of family occasions and Christmas was similar.

I do find it a struggle, especially for things like birthdays, Christmas and buying clothes and uniforms for school. Trying to do things in the school holidays, fun things for my daughter really. I find it a bit of a struggle sometimes; and just keeping on top of the Christmas bills.

75Tammy and Malcolm only bought Christmas presents for the children and not for each other.

As I said to him because there’s nothing that I need; there was nothing that he needed. So, we just told family and that ‘Don’ t buy us nothing and we won’t buy you nothing. Just buy for the kids.

76Terri also was struggling with the cost of Christmas.

I’ve struggled; but I have had to do it. When they open their presents they won’t get what other kids get. I mean my daughter came home the other day and said ‘Mum, there’s a coat; it’s called Moncler’. I think [they’re] skiing coats. Four hundred and odd [pounds]. I said You can’t have one of them’. So, I went to [well-known retailer] and bought her a £20 coat, which is the same with a furry hood.

77Joy had been lucky in receiving a generous contribution to her Christmas costs from her son’s grandparents.

They said they are sending him a £100 for Christmas, but also said they are sending me a £100 for the Christmas dinner; which I thought was lovely. I’ve ordered meat today on the back of that. That was lovely. Christmas dinner has been sorted; and now I’ve only got to be Father Christmas.

78Brenda had made regular savings to cope with Christmas, but it was money she couldn’t really afford.

We saved each month with a savings, like a hamper-type company. My sister does it, and we put away £20 a month. That’s really hard; it’s really, really hard. That means then at Christmas we’ve got £200. It means the kids can get something nice at Christmas. It means it is a big chunk out of the costs. But we wouldn’t be able to find that money at Christmas. You know, we miss it so much that money, each month; but then we’ve got this lump sum that we can use at Christmas.

79Like some of the other families, Sian and Steve had saved for a food hamper and were limiting what they spent on presents.

I do [a hamper savings company]. So I pay £7 a week; so I get about £300 that helps. Just takes a bit of pressure off. What we buy each other is only a couple of quid or whatever. This year we went to his Mum’s for Christmas Day. Just play it by ear really. We do what we can.

80Some families, like Denise’s, had been able to save for Christmas with a credit union.

I didn’t really cope, but I managed in the end [with] the credit union. I get loans off them every year. I would have been lost this year. But I managed; just paying it back now. That’s nice. But we managed to have a nice Christmas. That’s the main thing.

81Gaynor was struggling also and had gone to her parents for Christmas to cope.

Christmas was OK. We got by; didn’t have any food [laughs]. So we went to my Mum’s; and his Dad helped out. But we can’t keep going to him for stuff really. So yeah, I went to my Mum’s for dinner, like all over the Christmas. I even stayed there a few nights, because I didn’t like want to be in the house on my own at Christmas time.

“Children can’t understand”

82These parents worried constantly about the impact of money problems on their children. Gaynor was aware that she was continually having to say that she couldn’t afford to do things. The family hadn’t had a holiday for four years. Her daughter would also get upset when she couldn’t have something. Although Gaynor did think her daughter was understanding of their situation, she was also aware that it was having an effect on her.

My little girl, it does affect her. I think, it does. She goes on about her friends ‘have got this’ and her friends ‘have got that’, and I’m just thinking ‘Well, I’m not her friend’s Mum, sweetheart, I can’t. I haven’t got it’.

83Amber’s small children couldn’t understand why their mother never seemed to have any money.

The kids have this attitude when I say ‘There is no money’; they just say ‘Well go to the bank’. They just assume that there is never-ending money just coming out that bank. They don’t really understand. I have never really involved them in stuff like that. I don’t want them to worry.

84Ruth knew that her eldest child was aware of the family’s lack of money.

Yeah, my eldest daughter, she knows now. She is old enough to sort of understand. She’s like ‘We’re poor; why couldn’t I have been born to a rich family?’

85Denise could see that the family’s financial situation was affecting her children as they got older.

I mean, it doesn’t affect them all the time. But there are times when it does affect
them. Especially as my eldest daughter’s getting that bit older now; she likes to
go out more and socialise. Sometimes I have to go ‘I haven’ t got the money for
you to go there’, and it does put a bit of a downer on her because she thinks ‘well,
why? You work; what about the money’. I just have to explain to her, you know
what I mean.

86Amy thought her children appreciated what they get and that they also realised that, while they were not as well-off as some of their friends’ families, things could have been worse.

They do realise that I work hard to bring money in. And like I say, if they want
to go to the pictures at the weekend, ‘the money just isn’t there’. So I get a bit
of ‘Oh, it’s not fair’, and stuff. But then on the other hand like, little things will
trip them off to be really thankful. But I just want to instil in them, they’ve
always seen me going off to work and hopefully, like, I keep talking them into
getting better jobs. So they can look after me when they’re well off!

87Eileen was aware of the effects of peer pressure on her children; but was also grateful for their understanding attitude. Her daughter had obtained a part-time job whilst she was still at school to help out. She appreciated the problems her mother was dealing with and would often say that it didn’t matter that she couldn’t afford things.

She knows everything’s a struggle and very rarely asks; but being in the sixth
form there was an eighteenth birthday party every other week. She couldn’t to go
to them all because of outfits, shoes and that. But there was one she really had to
go to; and I usually borrow the money or beg steal or borrow and buy her a cheap
dress from [well-known retailer] and give her money to be able to go. And she
was always really grateful. I felt really awful and I would have loved her to go
to every one of them. But if I was that sort of a mum, she wouldn’t have turned
into the lovely girl she is. I don’t believe they should get everything they want. If
[her daughter] gets money the first thing she does is give [her brother ] money
or buy him something and she always buys me something.

88Grace’s son was much younger, but still showed understanding about the family’s circumstances. Grace found this upsetting.

It comes to the point where your seven-year-old son’s going ‘I know you haven’t
got any money Mum’. So, it’s a bit upsetting because you don’t want them to go without. It’s heart-breaking hearing your seven-year-old worrying if we can afford something.

Mental health

89The continual worry about paying bills and the stress of dealing with mounting debt undermines the psychological health of many people. This may be compounded by family tensions caused by financial pressures, partners working long hours and anxieties about the impact on children. Potential outlets for the pressures created are limited by the social isolation that working poverty creates.

  • 21 Accident and emergency.

I had a really bad, like, anxiety breakdown. It was horrendous. I was backwards and forwards to ‘A&E’ 21 because I was just convinced that something else was wrong with me. It was generalised anxiety.

90Terri had been working as a cleaner but gave it up due to ill health. The family was relying on Don’s earnings which were just above minimum pay level. Debt was a constant worry and the family had been dealing with bailiffs over rent and Council Tax arrears. Terri talked about the effects upon her own health.

I suffer from depression and anxiety as well. I was off my tablets and the doctor has put me back on them. When I was first on them, it was one and then two and now it’s three a day. It’s the worry of the money; and I am not sleeping. But my Mum says she’s finding it very hard. So everybody, no matter who you speak to, whether they are in work or on benefits, they are all struggling. But I find it terrible, sometimes I just go to bed and shut myself away.

91Terri had been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety and recounted what happened on one occasion.

And then my Mum gets a phone call from my children and it was ‘Nan we can’t wake Mum up’. But I hadn’t taken anything. I was awake but I couldn’t open my eyes; I’ve had a panic attack. I thought I was having a heart attack.

92Struggling to stay on top of her three jobs, Gaynor hadn’t had a holiday for four years. Council Tax and rent arrears to a private landlord, and a pay-day loan she had been paying off for a year, had all heaped pressure on her.

But even though the stress I’m going through, I’ve never been on antidepressants. But now I’ve had to go on anti-depressants; just because of the stress that they’ve [debts] left me in.

93On top of finding work very stressful, Jenny was finding that managing the family budget was a continual worry.

Constantly, constantly worry about money getting into the bank, and money coming out; and paying my money into the post office. It’s a constant worry of when it’s coming in and when it’s got to go back out.

94The sense of having nothing to look forward to came through in Emma’s comments about her routine.

It’s been a really bad year. The other day I got dressed, did my hair (first time in ages) and put my make-up on. It was only a hospital appointment to get her [her daughter] finger checked; and then we did the school run and I didn’t want to go home. Because I know as soon as I go home, it’s tidying up, it’s dinner, it’s tea; and then we are in bed by 7pm. There’s nothing to look forward to.

95When Eileen collapsed at work she was taken to hospital for tests. She had never previously had high blood pressure, but as she said ‘It was through the roof’. She attributed this directly to the stress she was under due to her debts and harassment from her landlord. She was aware that many people are developing mental health problems because of financial pressures.

So sometimes when I am worried I just go to bed, and that way I don’t force the worry on the kids then. It’s that bad though, it seriously is that bad. Thankfully, I’m a strong person, so as for mental health, I’ve not felt anything give yet. But anyone with a weaker disposition would have gone under if they’d been me, by about twelve months ago. But it’s depressing because I can’t see a way out in the near future; and I’m in that state, not because I’m a habitual drug taker, or not because I go to the bingo five nights a week. I like the odd bottle of wine, don’t get me wrong. But I’m in that state, literally, for keeping a roof over my kids’ heads and feeding them and clothing them, you know what I mean? I don’t know how people who have got problems manage, I don’t know. I’m actually looking for a night job in a chippy or something. That’s what I’m looking for at the minute; for regular cash coming in, maybe weekly and I’ve been looking round. My eldest son came down and said ‘Don’t you dare; you do enough’.

96Liz’s child had serious health problems and was going to need an operation. Her financial situation, on top of her worry for her child was very stressful.

It does stress me out sometimes. I get dead upset; I’m a crier. I’m dead emotional about things, I am. But then, I’m like that anyway. I wouldn’t say I was like ‘depressed’. But I have been really down about stuff in the past.

97Two of Amber’s three children had health problems. Because of her financial situation she couldn’t justify spending anything on herself, for example for a night out with friends. Whatever money she had left over after paying her bills was spent on the children. Anxiety about her finances had impacted upon her health just two years previously.

  • 22 Obsessive compulsive disorder.

I got diagnosed with OCD.22It was like constantly being anxious, and then having panic attacks on top of that. It was horrible. I still get them now, but not to the same extent.

98Sue was continually stressed about money.

We used to go out a bit more. I am always stressed a bit and always like trying to cut corners: ‘Don’t get that, get this one, it’s cheaper’. It’s like obsession. It’s shown me that in order to get a nice calm manageable life which I want, I have got to watch my spending because it causes me stress. It makes me feel so insecure, you know. Then I think ‘No, you can get on top of this if you plan’.

99Joy also felt that financial worries becoming too much for her to deal with. She couldn’t see a way to get on top of her money situation and felt like she was doing nothing more than working to survive.

There have been times when I’ve been stressed or really down; just like with bills getting on top of me and stuff. When I’ve got a few to pay and I just haven’t got the money; and I’ve been getting phone calls saying I owe money. It’s been quite stressful. It seems like the same every month. I can’t really get out of it because I’ve got all these payments. It’s just hard to get on top of. I’m not going to over-exaggerate and say ‘Oh, you know, I’m really down’. But I do feel like all I do is work to pay bills, to support the kids. Then when I’m not working, I’m kind of at home, trying to make a home kind of thing. I just feel like I’ve got no life. I’m just there doing what I need to do to get by and pay my bills and look after the kids. That’s how my financial situation makes me feel.

100Denise had experienced similar feelings.

Yeah, it gets you down. The days that you know, I’m working for nothing; nothing left, you know. But it’s life; but I don’t let it get me down; just got to get on with it. To be honest, it’s a case of you have to, isn’t it? Nowhere to turn to; can’t keep turning to family members all the time for money; have to pay them back you see, so it’s hard. So I just try to avoid it if I can, you know, getting into debt. I try to budget. But it’s not easy.


101Both Carol’s and Ric’s two children had health problems and most weeks they had to take them both for essential treatments at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. There was never money to spare at the end of the month and they always had to borrow something. Carol had become depressed about their situation. She was also very worried about the impact that Ric’s long working hours and shift work were having on his health.

Ric was worried because he was off with stress for a week this month. But he had to go back in; basically had no choice about it. He’s got to go back in. We can’t afford for him to be off work for any length of time whatsoever. Statutory sick pay is really bad; and then he was worried sick that when he goes back in: ‘Am I going to have a job to go to’. That kind of thing.

102Karolina, who was having her second child, was also worried about her partner, Micha, and the long hours he works.

I do get stressed, especially now with being pregnant. When I found out I was pregnant, we’d just been talking with my Micha all about it and the first thing that hit me, it wasn’t the ‘Whoo, I’m pregnant!’ like I was with [her daughter], I mean I was happy; don’t get me wrong. We are happy that were going to get another member of the family and all that. But the first thing that hit me was ‘How are we going to cope? How are we going to manage?’ But then I felt ‘If we can manage with one, then we’re going to manage with two’. It’s going to need some cuts, but we’ll get there somewhere. But now I can see the bump growing, I don’t really much think about it. I just think more about the baby than the financial thing. But that was the first reaction: ‘How are we going to manage?’Micha said ‘Oh, I think I’m going to have to find another job’. If there was another week, another few days in the week maybe yes, it would be possible. He’s just over-tired. He does work such long hours. Sometimes he comes home dead frustrated saying ‘I don’t get that I’m working that many hours; where is the money? What am I working for?’

103Grace had the same worries about her partner, Liam.

Well his hours are really long. He doesn’t get a break. As you know he’s a chef so he gets no break. I’ve noticed the last few years where he’s working now he comes home and he’s absolutely knackered. It’s not fair to be on your feet all day, especially in the summer; the heat was unbearable. He had a lot of trouble because he was sweating so much. He got like an infection on his back and we thought maybe it was cancer. He’s been really stressed out. He went to see a specialist yesterday and he said ‘No, it’s fine’. But he is under a lot of stress as well. You know he works hard and he gets paid a pittance really.

104Grace Cath’s worries about her partner Liam, were also about the excessive hours he was having to work.

He was on nights last night and this morning. He didn’t get home until about quarter past eight. It’s exhausting for him sometimes; just getting home. He’s such a hard working guy.

105The stress of money problems had been causing arguments between Phoebe and her partner Gavin. Phoebe was also anxious about Gavin’s health. He worked full-time in manufacturing and rode a bike twenty miles to and from his job each day. He didn’t have proper weatherproof clothing and would often get wet. Gavin left each day for work at 6am and normally didn’t get home till 7pm. He often didn’t feel like eating a proper meal when he got home and had been losing weight.

He’s 50 next year and again it’s good for his health, riding [his bike]. But the stress he’s under! No, you know what I mean? It’s horrific: he’s not eating properly; he’s not sleeping properly because he’s worried constantly about money; and ‘How am I going to save money to do this, that or the other?

Sick children

106Having a child who is ill or has a long-term health condition, increases the stress of trying to get by on a low income. On top of trying to make sure that the children have the correct diet for their condition, there are many other practical and financial difficulties ranging from the costs of regular visits to hospital, additional laundry costs and the need to make special provision for holidays and child-care.

107Rabia normally used the bus for her regular visits to the Alder Hey hospital. Sometimes however, that wasn’t possible and she would then have to take her child by taxi to her appointments.

One of my kids suffers with asthma, and so we’re often spending time in Alder Hey. So we’ve got to ride the buses. If we have to take a taxi, then it costs me £10; and it can’t wait because you’ve got kids. We’ve got no car and sometimes people can offer you a lift to Alder Hey. But it’s a distance isn’t it?

108Emma also had to deal with the costs of frequent hospital visits with one of her children.

Sometimes I was going up twice a day. I tended to go straight from work, so that I could pick [one of her daughters] up from school. I couldn’t do it that way. I would go up in the evening when [a relative] could mind her for me. Parking was £3 each visit; so it was working out on average about £20 a week. I borrowed, like a lump sum off my Mum which I’m paying back now.

109Liz also had to manage regular hospital visits on top of the pressure to be in work.

With [her son], he’s got arthritis, so I’ve got a lot of hospital appointments with him and that costs; going up to Alder Hey hospital and stuff. We have to get the bus and then we’ll wait; and if you’re waiting and you’ve got an appointment, and the bus doesn’t come, it’s like £10 in a taxi up there; and it’s like ‘Oh God’. But it’s something that I’ve got to do, because he’s got to be seen and he’s got to be up-to-date with his consultations and things. After that I know he’s going to be sick for two or three days; but I’m expected to be back in work the next day, so he’s going to have to go to my Mum and Dad.

110The main reason Carol and Ric paid to run a car was to manage the routine of hospital visits for their children.

We’ve got a car. It is essential at the moment, for getting [their daughter] around more than anything, because her health is not great either. She’s asthmatic but she’s also had a chest infection that will not go away for the last two years; so she’s under Alder Hey. We’re there nearly every week and she’s just in and out of hospital like that, basically. My son […] has got health problems as well. He suffers a lot from anxiety, so sometimes he has vomiting issues and things like that. We’re going backwards and forwards to Alder Hey.

111One of Eileen’s children had developed asthma, and she was having to work hard to make sure that the home environment was free of dust.

I’m washing a lot more; changing his bed every other day instead of once a week. He’s developed severe hay-fever and asthma. So I said to the consultant ‘I just need to know why, with a perfectly healthy thirteen year-old?’ He’s got a brown inhaler of a morning, and of a night. He’s got to carry the blue one around and he probably uses it twice a day; and he’s on antihistamines twice a day, so it’s really bad. That’s another big thing that’s happened since February. And it put a bit of a jinx through me to be perfectly honest. That’s a lot onto my electric. The electricity has gone up fourfold.

112Eileen also had worries about her daughter, who was trying to help with the family finances on top of school work.

She worked every Saturday and Sunday for about eighteen months in town, and it became far too much for her. She was going out of the door early hours, seven days a week. Her school work suffered a bit. To be fair she got a bit depressed. I had to take her the doctors as she was under too much pressure; and the doctor said ‘Maybe the job is too much with all the school work’. So that stopped. And I did explain to her that I just wouldn’t have the money to give to her. She doesn’t go out much; she’s a very good girl. I’m lucky.

113One of Nick’s and Cath’s children was autistic and could be violent and aggressive. Cath was conscious of the increasing pressure she had been under. Coping with the school summer holidays and not being able to have a family holiday together had been particularly upsetting.

So, I do struggle, really struggle, to find something suitable. So most of the time we split up [for holidays]. It’s hugely stressful; more than usual compared to the average family. And all of us going away together? We can’t actually afford that type of holiday.

A healthy diet

114At least four of the families had been using foodbanks over the course of the year. Grace was too embarrassed to talk about it at length, but did explain that she had resorted to them when she’d fallen into arrears with her rent. Sian had serious debts and was having to make use of a foodbank when there was no alternative. Denise and Carol also both briefly talked about when they had used a foodbank.

I have struggled. Getting foodbanks for myself for my children, and I’m a worker. I shouldn’t have to do that, but sometimes I struggle that much I have to. It’s hard.

Well, every now and then, as I’ve said, I rely on the foodbank. But I still find, well, I’m just going to have to go to one of them. It does help, it’s a meal.

115Amber found providing her children with a healthy diet to be real challenge.

Obviously the price of food now is just outrageous; to feed a family, you know, on a healthy diet. Not only that, my son has autism so he will only eat certain foods. So I’m having to have a separate shopping budget for him.

116There were some weeks when she could barely afford even the basics, and had to cut back on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Beans, spaghetti, and we will just have beans-on-toast, noodles, small little teas you know. I’d literally just go to the [well-known supermarket] and spend about £15 and just get nuggets and chips. I don’t cut out fruit-and-veg completely during that week; only when I can’t afford it. It’s literally a bag of cornflakes. It’s all ‘smart price’ and it will literally be cornflakes and bread.

117Phoebe was spending over fifteen percent of the family income on food. The cost of fresh food was too high for the family budget and she found she was having to buy more frozen food, which wasn’t good for the children’s health.

I’ve always tried to give them healthy fresh food; whereas now I’m thinking ‘Oh, God’. So I’m buying more frozen stuff. I’ve noticed the difference in them because they never used to get sick. Now all of a sudden, they’re catching every cough and cold. And it’s just horrendous, the price of the shopping that’s coming and it’s, as I say, it’s just too much. But it’s a case of ‘the kids eat fresh and I’ll eat a pack of noodles’. As long as they’re eating healthy, that’s my priority. That’s why I do get sick all the time; that’s why I mustn’t lose weight. Then I get even more sick, because I can’t afford to eat healthy.

118Grace’s spending on food was nearly thirteen percent of the family income. She had been buying a lot less meat because of the expense, and was avoiding ready meals.

I did buy the really cheap stuff once, but it was disgusting. But what can you do? And I cook all my food from scratch. I don’t buy all ready-meals. The only thing they have that’s bad is once every couple of weeks, they’d have a pizza; and one of them doesn’t eat that because he’s allergic to dairy. I used to buy the cheap noodles, but then I found out they’re really bad for you; so now I just get the plain egg noodles. They’re dearer, and I put a bit of soup in.

119Carol’s own health problems meant that eating a correct diet was a priority. But it was something she was struggling to do. The family were spending over seventeen percent of their income on food.

Every time you go the supermarket prices are going up, and going up before your eyes. And I do have to shop around and basically get the cheapest of everything; and I check everything on the shelves. I just have to get the cheapest. That’s all I can afford.

120The loss of Child Benefit has caused Eileen to cut back on her food budget. Over the course of the year she had still spent over fifteen percent of her income on food.

I’ve definitely noted I am spending a little less on food because I can’t afford as much as I could. I try to do the fresh veg and meat thing once a week, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I’m spending less on food now than at the beginning of the year. But that’s because my money has gone down with [her daughter] leaving school. I’m losing benefits I was getting for [her daughter].

The NHS—free at the point of use?

121The cost of prescriptions, dental work and optician’s costs can be significant for families in working poverty. Financial problems can and do lead to people neglecting their own health. As we have seen, concerns about the health of family members in many cases were adding to the anxiety and stress caused by money worries.

122Phoebe had been in poor health for a number of years and should have been taking various medications for serious health issues. However, she couldn’t afford the prescription pre-payment plan and so was either getting pain killers from family and friends, or going without entirely. The prescription for her eyesight had also changed and she’d had to find the money for new glasses.

The likes of prescriptions; I’ve had really bad health over the last five years and it’s a case of ‘I can’t get my tablets’, so I’ve had to stop taking them because we can’t afford the prescription. So even getting the yearly one, we literally can’t afford it. Since I went back to work, I’ve actually been getting prescriptions every month; well trying to get them every month. Sometimes I leave the painkillers off. I was getting to the point where wrong thoughts were coming in: like I didn’t want to cook; didn’t want to go out. I do work full-time. I get exhausted and I end up collapsing anyway. I just don’t see a way out unless I get another part-time job of a weekend.

123One of Phoebe’s and Gavin’s children had developed bad eczema and the medication prescribed by the family doctor hadn’t worked. Phoebe had asked the doctor for a different treatment which a friend had introduced her to; but had been disappointed.

I took him to the doctors and asked for it, and got told ‘We don’ t prescribe that because it’s too expensive’. I said ‘Are you messing? He’s ten years of age and if it is something that actually works, why can’t we have it?’ We argued and argued with them, but they wouldn’t give it us because it costs them too much. I was fuming over it. He was upset as well. It took my friend to go back to her doctor’s to get this tape and she gave it me. Otherwise it is £30 odd to buy.

124Janet was aware of the anomalies in prescription charges around the UK, and the difficulties involved in paying them.

When are we going to get free prescriptions as well? Scotland do it, Wales do it, any chance that we can? Wales have had it for years haven’t they? They don’t have to pay for theirs. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to pay because I’m on Working Families Tax Credit. That’s why I don’t pay for my prescriptions. But if you’re not, then you’re snookered aren’t you? I think it’s about nine pound something. It’s bad, isn’t it? That’s for everything that you’re getting, every prescription that you get. I’ve got a friend over the road and his wife’s really poorly at the moment, and she has to get six or seven items every month. That’s like £60, that’s terrible.

125Carol had given up her job up due to illness and was continuing to have health problems. However, her entitlement to free prescriptions was about to run out due to an improvement in one of her multiple long-term conditions.

I’ll no longer be eligible for my free prescriptions and I do have quite a lot of health problems and numerous deficiencies. So I have God knows know many items each month on prescription and, again, I don’t know how I’m going to pay for them once the free prescription runs out.

126Both Grace and Liam had suffered poor health. Although they could get free prescriptions for their four children for minor ailments, Grace said she would rather pay over the counter even though family finances were very difficult. She explained why.

Well, honestly, I don’t know how we manage. It cost me the other week £25 for prescriptions. Me and my partner have to pay, but it’s something that could go on gas or electric. Cost-of-living just keeps going up, doesn’t it? But his wages don’t keep going up. I never want anyone to think I won’t make an appointment for my kids to get them medicine; but I buy the medicine over the counter. I don’t go to the doctor and say ‘He needs Calpol’, I don’t. I go and buy it. I use that ‘Care in the Chemists’. But I just get like you feel like you’re begging for stuff; and I’m just not into that. I’d rather just pay for it.

127Grace and Liam had also been through a fight to get their youngest child diagnosed with a speech impediment. They’d had a similar experience with their eldest child and thought it made a difference if you can pay.

It’s like with his speech. I’ve had to fight all the way. His speech isn’t clear, and I’ve waited since last year and it’s infuriating. Like if you’ve got money you’ll get seen. If you blend in the background like my eldest son, all the way through I’ve had to fight for him to get proper tests to see what learning disabilities he’s got. They just said now ‘He’s dyslexic’.

128The cost of dental care was also a significant expense. Karolina talked about this problem.

So I went to the dentist and I’ve asked if he would have to pay, and she said ‘£18 for a test and then about £33 to take it off’ [remove part of a broken tooth]. So it’s like for £50 to take it; only a tiny bit of tooth; but it’s still £50.

Pressure on relationships

129Most of the families described the ways in which financial difficulties put pressure on their relationships. When long hours of overtime are needed to pay the bills, there is even more strain, as Karolina explained.

I was complaining, moaning to him about him working a lot and I’m always on my own. When he comes back after working eleven hours he just wants to sit down quiet. I’m on my own and so I’m talking and talking and talking. Sometimes we have an argument about that. I said to him ‘If we could just have two days to take [her daughter] somewhere, or just stay in the house.

130It was much the same for Phoebe and Gavin.

We used to get out once a month and make time for ourselves, but we can’t do that. He’s working longer hours. We don’t see each other; and then we are arguing all the time. The stress of Christmas means it’s going to come to a head. We literally cannot afford to carry on like this.

131For many years Phoebe and Gavin had not lived together. Phoebe explained that financially they were better-off when that was the case, although she also felt it was important for the children that they live together. She was now thinking that it might be better to go back to a previous arrangement when he had just stayed twice a week at the family home. This was something she has seen other couples do.

I know loads now; they’ve actually split up. They still go out, but they don’t live together. They’ve both got the separate houses. They go out with the kids; they do everything with the kids. They just don’t live together. They’ve got their house, or the fellas have moved back home to their Mum and Dad’s. They’re better-off; they just come and stay now and then. It’s tearing families apart because no one can handle it, no one can.

132Phil and Dot had experienced the same difficulties.

We actually split up one time because of it, and when we did split up we found that we were actually better-off, when we split up. That wasn’t last year, but the year before. We lived separately. I went into a room accommodation, like a hostel type of thing; she stayed in the house. She was able to claim then, her Housing Benefit and whatever else and tax credits, Council Tax benefit; she was getting a lot of help with that. We were a lot better-off. I would say we were apart for about nine months. Then we realised that, there’s more than the money at the end of the day, you know. When we were with each other then, there was so much happening at that time and, as I say, we’ve got back together. And the first thing that’s gone is the tax credits. When they heard we were back together everything got stopped.

133The fact that Mark couldn’t find work was causing arguments between him and Ruth. She had been trying to hide the pressure she was feeling, but it wasn’t working.

When you are more stressed out about money it comes out in the family and people pick it up. My partner picks up on it all the time: ‘You are stressed’. He can see it. I can see him stressed as well. So, I have sort of put a mask on, because I don’t want to put my stress on to him.

134Brenda’s partner hadn’t been able to get work either, and this was one of the reasons they weren’t living together and always argued about money. The arrival of their new baby had brought things to a head.

Things are not going to change with me and the kids’ Dad. That’s getting worse. We can’t even talk to each other. Any time we are together, we are at each other’s throats. I’m saying ‘You are not doing this’ and he’s going ‘Leave me alone, stop moaning’. When anything happened it always fell to me. I was the one who paid for everything; sorted everything out. I was out at work while he was in the house with the kids. If I came home from work and the place was a mess I’d be saying ‘What have you been doing all day?’ We are still in the same situation. He’s not better-off financially. It is a big part of it. He said ‘Let me, be me’. He wanted me to apologise because one day I just exploded. I’d worked ten shifts back-to-back. Next thing he just walked out and it just carried on from there. [If he had a job] I would stop saying ‘You are not giving the kids a future’. He’s just surviving and has been for a long time.

  • 23 A request was made not to attribute this comment, even using a different name.

135Another of the mothers23 wasn’t living with the father of her children anymore because she felt he wasn’t responsible enough with money. She was also aware of how it would affect her financial position if he did live with them.

Well, for financial reasons I can’t live with him because he’s not very sensible with the money. So I’ve got the kids to think about really; they come first. I’d lose a lot of money if he moved back in anyway; and I don’t trust him enough to be wise enough with what he does get. He does work, but he’s not very sensible. So, it’s not fair on the kids, to be honest. Obviously, I still love him because it’s gone on for years and years and years. But I think until he grows up—he’s 35—and unless he grows up, I can’t [be with him]. I’d lose a lot of money if he moves back in anyway.

136Sam had recently separated from her husband. She didn’t feel it was particularly due to financial pressures. However, she was aware of how money worries can lead to couples separating. The sudden change in her own situation illustrated some of the difficult consequences of separation for parents forced onto benefits.

So I went from living in a house when we were on a low wage and living with my husband and two children. I’ve actually had to move, and me and the two children are now in rented accommodation. I have had to put in a claim. I’m on income support and I’ve got my tax credits and my Child Benefit and everything. So it’s sort of, it’s hard for me, because I’m having to deal with money. I was used to not dealing with claiming benefits.

Reliance on family

137Parents, brothers and sisters and extended family were a vital source of help to the families. This spanned from emotional support to financial assistance and practical help, and especially child-care. The difference that having a family makes is something that Joy really appreciated.

I just do find it a struggle, and obviously there must be people worse off than me as well who must find it even harder. And I think it must lead to other problems; if people can’t get money or don’t have family who can help. I mean, I’ve been quite lucky that my Mum and Dad can help me. Not that I like to ask, but sometimes there’s no other option, and I have to ask.

138Denise’s feelings about having to get financial help from her parents was typical of what many of the families felt on this issue.

They do; they do help me a lot. Like my Mum and my Dad help me quite a lot. But sometimes I’m like a let-down when I can’t give it them back. And they’re like, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ And it’s because I’ve got to pay for this, and pay for that, and it gets me down that I can’t pay them back. I wish I could, but then I haven’t got any spare to give them back. My Mum’s very good. She’s always coming round with a bag of shopping or stuff for the kids. But she’s a pensioner; it shouldn’t be like that. It should be the other way ‘round. I should be going ‘round taking stuff ‘round to hers.

139Gaynor felt much the same way.

My Mum gave me some money; me and my sister and brothers; some money to get a start on Christmas. But really it shouldn’t be down to my Mum. It should be down to myself really. Oh my Mum’s wonderful; she’s my little guardian angel. But she shouldn’t be; like she’s getting on now; a pensioner.

140Amy’s father used to help by taking out loans on her behalf. Since his death, her mother hadn’t been able to help financially. However, she did help in other ways.

She’s in a worse situation than me I think, but she has borrowed for me in her name. I’ve got a catalogue in her name. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s helping me out. I mean obviously I pay it. She only works part-time. She’s sixty this year. She works as a cleaner, but she’s got osteoarthritis and she can’t get any benefit top-ups or anything; so she struggles. Occasionally, she will help out with babysitting.

141Ric and Carol were finding that they needed to rely on both sets of parents. Ric’s parents were helping by buying groceries for the family; Carol was borrowing money regularly from her parents, who were pensioners. They had help with other things also.

I don’t know what I’d do without my Dad quite honestly. I just, well my Mum and my Dad, I borrow off them every month; and the guilt that goes with it! I’d love a new suite, even down to things like bedding and towels; all those sort of things. I just haven’t got the money to go out and buy all that stuff new. So I feel like I just live off hand-me-downs basically, still. Rapidly approaching fifty and still living off hand-me-downs from my Mum and Dad and Ric’s Mum and Dad. It’s like I still don’t feel like we’re self-sufficient.

142Feeling guilty about asking for help was a common experience, as Colette described.

I try not to, and I absolutely hate asking for anything, you know what I mean. But last week I had to borrow £40 off my Mum for her [daughter’s] birthday. I will give it back to Mum today; but I absolutely hate it. As long as I have got enough food in for them, I will go without rather than ask.

143Sue came from a large family. However, many of the family members were themselves in financial difficulties. She felt guilty asking her father for help.

Well I do feel guilty, because my Dad’s getting on you know. I did ask him and he said ‘Look, I’ve just lent to this one and that one; but I will be there for you in a real emergency. But for now try and do it yourself’.

144Brenda estimated that over the years she must have borrowed thousands of pounds from her mother, given the number of times she’d had to ask. In fact, she didn’t always have to ask for help; it was often just volunteered.

I’ve been doing as much as I can. Sometimes if she goes shopping she’ll buy the kids clothes or she’ll buy the food, and I’ll go ‘Are you sure, Mum?’ And she’ll go, ‘Yeah’. The kids’ uniforms cost me; it cost £300. But my Mum paid £100 of it. When we got to the till she’s thrown her card in and I’ve gone ‘Are you sure, Mum?’ And she’s like’, Yeah’. You don’t get anything for school uniforms anymore; and [her son] is a size ten in shoes. So his shoes are like £60-£70. It’s non-stop isn’t it? Constantly.

145Cath’s mother also helped with shopping for clothes for the children.

I’m very fortunate, I’ve got a wonderful mother. She doesn’t buy shoes, but she’ll buy some clothes quite regularly. Several times a year she’ll buy them clothes, and she’ll pay for a meal out, and without that I would struggle even more. Not everyone’s in that position; not everyone is that lucky.

146Like many of the parents, Karolina was taking up a friend’s offer of help on a regular basis with child-care. She said she would feel differently if it was her mother she was asking. Her mother however, lived in Poland.

I think it’s very nice of her; but I wouldn’t ask for help. I would rather she say ‘No, I can’t help’, because I don’t think it’s right asking people. I don’t think it’s right to drop your child to a friend to go to work, even if she’s only there for two hours because Micha is then going to pick her up. But no, I don’t really want to do it, not every Friday. But say if my Mum was here, I’d have no problem.

147Since Ali had been made redundant, he and Rabia had been having to manage on the irregular work he was getting in a fast-food outlet. As a result, they struggled and Rabia’s family weren’t in a position to help financially.

No, because my Mum is on a pension herself and my brothers and sisters, they struggle themselves. It’s hard, even for the ones that work.

148Helping with child-care was often the most practical form of support that the wider family was able to provide. As Ruth put it:

She [her mother] takes my son to school for me; things like that, all sorts. She will cook a leg of lamb and give it to me to take home. She is great. Yeah, I don’t want to exploit her, and I am conscious of that. Do you know what I mean?

149Emma’s mother was there to look after her children if they were ill.

My Mum, she helps out a lot if [her daughter] is off sick and I have to go to work, she’ll look after her.

150Brenda stressed the importance of social support and the fact that, even though she didn’t live with her partner any more, he was there to look after the children.

I think social support is really, really important. I couldn’t afford to do childcare. Because it’s shift work, sometimes I have to be in at 6 am. So I rely on the children’s Dad to have them in the morning, and pick them up from school and just be there with them. He doesn’t do as good a job as I do, but he’s there; they’re safe, so, yeah, I think it’s really, really important. If I didn’t have him and my Mum, my sisters, I’d be really buggered.

151Luke and Minnie had been relying on Luke’s parents for help with child-care.

I really rely on my grandparents, because my wife, she’s only got two hands, so two babies is a bit heavy. They’re both really small at the moment, so we quite rely on my grandparents. They give a hand during the terms, but we try to really be independent on the financial side; so, we don’t ask for any money from them. They are retired; they’ve got more time than we have. Because we can’t afford the full amount when the children go to nursery, if both of us are working. We’ve negotiated with my parents. They are happy to help us out three days a week and then we put the kids in the nursery for two days, and then we still have to look after them over the weekend. That’s what the family plan is after Christmas.

152Living in a shared house with her parents meant that Fiona did have ongoing support and child-care.

My Mum’s fantastic. She supports us, not quite financially […] and my Dad watches the baby once a week. It’s good to have them. I couldn’t see my way out of a low income without that family support.

Support from ex-partners

153The difficulties faced by lone parents struggling with sole responsibility for their children, were exacerbated where their ex-partners were not providing any support. In some cases, they also had to carry responsibility for debts that had been taken on before the separation. This was Amy’s situation and her ex-partner couldn’t make any financial contribution to the family, only picking the children up from school twice a week because of the long hours he was working.

Most of the bills and the debts were all in my name, because when we first registered I was the first person on the tenancy agreement. So I got stuck with all the debt. It was all left to me. That was, I think, at the time I had to go to court, not long after we split up, because I was getting evicted from the house. I thought he’d been going to the meetings and stuff like that to make arrangements because there were rent arrears. The arrears were £3,500, nearly £4,000 at the time. I thought he was dealing with it, and then I found out he never [did]. So I had to go to court and make arrangements to pay it, which I’ve paid off.

154Janet was in a similar situation, but with even more debt.

I’m completely blacklisted. He’s left me about twenty grand’s worth of debt. Just all the Visa bills and all that stuff. So it was all left to me because it was all in my name. So I’m completely blacklisted. So I’ve got nothing like that; no back up at all. I’ve never taken a loan out; maybe a good few years ago in my other place. That was completely paid off. I’m still paying all of that back. He can walk away scot free. It’s all in my name. I don’t know how long that’s going to take to pay off, probably ten years or something.

Social life

155Going for a meal as a couple or for a drink with friends was seen by all the families as a luxury, and something that had to be calculated against other bills or expenses. Grace and Liam didn’t drink alcohol and said if they did have any money spare, it would always go towards paying a utility bill or buying shoes.

We can’t; we’ve never been out. We’ve been together fourteen years and since we’ve had the kids, we’ve never in eleven years, we’ve never been out. If you go on a family trip, that costs us about £100. We went to Chester Zoo that cost us £100, plus our travelling which was £30. That’s a week’s shopping just for a day out.

156As money had become tighter, Phil and Dot had increasingly cut back on their social life.

I’ve packed in the cigarettes, which is a good thing probably. We used to enjoy a glass of wine at the weekends; but we can’t do that anymore. It’s just like pleasurable things that we used to be able to do; they’ve all gone. Even, like, we used to be able to go out at the weekends; we used to be able to visit somewhere. You had £30–40 over, so you could put a bit of petrol in for the distance to go somewhere. But you can’t even do that now.

157It was a similar story for many of the other families. As Ruth put it:

Socially, going out and things, I have not been out for ages because we’ve got no money basically to go out now.

158Other couples never went out and relied entirely upon the television as their sole source of entertainment. Some families had internet-television packages. These were often the main source of entertainment for families, and compensated for a social life to some degree.

159Some of the families also saw the fixed costs of a television package as one means by which they could keep control of their spending on recreation and leisure time.

I don’t really go out, not really. I mean, I go out, I take Luke out. But I don’t actually go out in the evening or socialise. My Mum will babysit; [two relatives] are really good. But then I think, well if it’s going to cost me £40 to do something, I’d rather spend that on my shopping or my Visa card or things like that. I just watch the TV. We’ve got Sky; that’s within the phone bill. I think its £45 a month. It’s just so I don’t get overdrawn with the bank, because then you have to pay bank charges.

160Liz explained that she would sooner spend money on her child than go out for an evening.

To be honest, most of my money goes on him. It’s not like I go out drinking every weekend or anything like that, because it’s just not an option. It wouldn’t be an option, even if I did have the money. I can go out for someone’s birthday; but I still have to budget and make sure I’ve got the money for everything else.

161Having friends who could afford to go out was a cause of social embarrassment for people like Carol and Ric.

Ric hasn’t heard from his friend from a while and he’s thinking ‘He’s fallen out with me’; but it’s because every time he phoned him it was ‘Come for a drink, come for a drink’. And he can’t. He says ‘I think he’s got to the point where he’s that pissed off with me he doesn’t phone anymore’. The same myself, I haven’t been out for months; months! People go ‘What’s up with you?’ You’re being antisocial’ and you go ‘Oh yeah, I haven’t been in the mood lately’, or whatever. Because you don’t want to turn round and constantly go ‘I’ m skint’, you know what I mean’. It’s embarrassing as well, because you almost feel like you’re inadequate because you can’t do those things.


162Holidays were an expense that all of the families struggled to meet. Whilst the parents could have time off work, stay-at-home holidays were the norm and involved having low-cost days out, as Rabia explained.

We can’t afford holidays. We can’t afford certain things like cars. It’s just struggling. I just think as long as they [the children] get fed and they go to school and have an education, you know? We haven’t been on holiday since before I had kids [seven years]. The places where I have taken them are just to the park and places like that.

163Jenny also struggled to afford holidays.

It’s a lot more stressful, like when it comes to taking the baby on days out and things like that in the summer. When she is off school obviously you want to do something with them. Money, the way it is, it’s going to be very tight at the minute. When she’s coming home we are staying in because it’s so cold. But when it gets warmer we just go to the park. There’s like a Sure Start we go to. We go swimming there once a week. It’s only £2.50 to go in the swimming baths for an hour. So I take her there and do things like that. Even if it’s just like going to my Mum’s or my mates coming down with their children.

164In the same way Colette did things over the school holidays that wouldn’t cost anything.

I’d love to take them on holiday. We sort of choose to go to the park rather than a play centre where you have got to pay. You know what I mean. We obviously go for the cheaper options all the time. Every now and then you’d love to just splash out. But at the end of the day things like that aren’t really important. It’s just about spending time together isn’t it?

165Ruth described how not having money for family holidays affected her.

Sometimes it makes me feel, how can I put it? I don’t really know how to explain it. I don’t feel I am able to express it, you know. Like, I have not got the funds to be able to do what I would like to be able to do at the moment. You know, when people are saying to me ‘I am booking a holiday’ and ‘I am going here, there and everywhere’. I do feel a tinge of jealousy towards them. I want to go away. I want to go on holiday with my kids. I want to do that as well, you know. It is just a case of, right now, we have not got the money and that’s it.

166Joy didn’t see any prospect of being able to save enough to afford a holiday.

No, never any savings or anything. I wanted to save for me and my daughter to go away on holiday. But there’s just nothing at the end of the month to save, to put away.

167Parents often felt guilty about being unable to afford to take their children away on holiday. Phoebe hadn’t had a break away with the children for four years.

My brother, he said to me last week ‘I’ve got a caravan for a few days, do you want to come up with the kids?’ And we had to say ‘No’, because I didn’t have any money; and he said ‘Well, I’ll pay for you’. And I said ‘No, I don’t want that, because I still want at least a bit of money in my own pocket’. So I felt guilty about that, because I feel like the kids have missed out because I haven’t got the money to take them. It’s hard now because they’re seeing all their friends going on holiday and they’re like ‘Mum when can we go on holiday?’ And I’m like ‘Argh, the twelfth-of-never, the way it’s going’.

168Eileen had similar feelings of guilt, but also considered herself lucky to have children who understood the situation.

As a family we’ve never been on holiday. They understand; they’re good kids. It’s not a case that I don’t want to take them; it’s just a case that I can’t. I don’t know many families that don’t go on holiday.

169Being a self-employed cleaner meant that Emma wasn’t paid for time off work. Holidays therefore represented an even more significant cost. She had to rely on help from her family.

I can’t afford it. So it sounds horrible, but it depends if my Mum can pay for us to go. But then it gets my Mum away as well. But it just depends on what she can afford. I have got relatives; but I don’t go to visit them. Because if I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid. I don’t work weekends, so I can take them then. But if I take a week off, I won’t get paid for that week.

170A child recently moving school and the cost of the new school uniform, had made a family holiday out of the question for Phil and Dot.

Because [their son]’s going into senior school now, we’ve got expenses there. Uniforms; things like that. Rather than going and spending all the money on holidays, what we’re going to have to do is save up for a school uniform.

171Denise hadn’t been able to afford a holiday the previous year and wasn’t sure how she was going to manage one in the near future.

We didn’t have a holiday last year because my little boy had his holy communion. We normally go to Butlins, but there’s quite a lot of us and we have to have two chalets. You can get four or five in one chalet, but six? Know what I mean?

172Occupying the children during the school holidays is a challenge for most families, but it’s that much more difficult when money is short. Terri had plans for keeping the children occupied.

Well, I have told them. The first two weeks we are doing bedrooms and moving them into my room; and they are going to share. I said to them ‘I will paint and decorate it for you’; budgeted for that. I reckon £50 will get paint and stuff for their room. So that’s one thing that will keep us occupied for a fortnight. So we will do that. Then other than that, it’s my Mum’s or we will go to the museum or days out. I am not too worried about it and I have got Sky which is the best thing. They will just watch films; and the other one likes reading.

173Planning the school summer holidays for the parents included thinking about how to save money and avoid costs. As Grace explained:

  • 24 Free street entertainment, but with cost of travel into town.

I take drinks and food with me most of the time; but its hard work having to carry everything. We go on day trips; try and go to the beach. We try to do things that are as cheap as possible and stay away from fairs and things where they just want to take your money. But we’re going to see ‘The Giants’ 24 which is going to cost me a fortune. Then maybe on week three we’re going to try and do camping in a tent; see how we go there. Last year the school donated a holiday to us which was nice. I mean we did feel like paupers; but it was nice, we’d never been away.

174Denise dearly wanted to take the children on a foreign holiday one day. In reality however, she wasn’t sure that she would be able to take the children away at all. She found it very difficult to put any money aside for anything but the basics.

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 to 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.

175Luke and Minnie wanted to take their new baby to Luke’s parents. However the grandparents didn’t live in Britain. Luke and Minnie couldn’t afford even a cheap holiday in the UK. The cost of going abroad was completely beyond them.

After the baby, we can’t afford to go on holiday; and also my wife cannot make money; so the income has certainly dropped. Also the mortgage, we only rely on my own wage, so that’s a lot, in the last couple of years.

Thinking of others

176Most of the families, in one way or another, expressed awareness that there were people worse off than themselves. Contributing something to help others can be important for seeing oneself as an active member of society. So, even though they struggled to manage themselves, some of the families nonetheless gave to charity.

Yes, I do give to charity. I give to the Salvation Army. When I was homeless I would have been in serious trouble without them. £19 at Christmas for the gloves and that, and then I give them £10 a month. I know you might say ‘It’s ridiculous’, but to be fair they do help, and my heart breaks for anyone who’s on the streets in this weather.

177Similarly, Karolina gave to homeless people. Luke and Minnie also regularly gave to charity. So too, did Amy.

I sponsor Children’s Miracle and Radio City Cash for kids. I give them £5 a month. I used to sponsor Macmillan, but I had to stop. That one was £10, and at the time I was also doing the Cash for Kids and the British Heart Foundation; £5 a month. I’ve cut it down now.


178Whilst ‘the job’ is often stressful for those on low pay, security of home and personal and family life can be a compensating and stabilising factor that protects against the strains of working life. Where this is not the case, home insecurity hugely exacerbates those strains. For these families, it was not the case. As we have seen, the families were typically renting their homes and many had stories to tell of negligent landlords, arbitrary evictions, and poor housing conditions. As with the world of work, deregulation played its role in these stories, with landlords finding it relatively easy to evict their tenants without any social accountability, as well as poor enforcement of landlord obligations with respect to repairs and the eradication of damp and mould in the property.

179Other problems that were linked to housing included the difficulty of meeting the up-front costs of moving into unfurnished premises, the pernicious effects of the ‘bedroom tax’ and the loss of community resources in the neighbourhood. The combinations of these and other issues arising from the historic loss of social housing as an option for those living on low incomes was leading to severe detrimental effects for the families.

180On top of struggling to achieve home stability come the myriad challenges of family life. Across all the family interviews, one challenge stood out from the rest as a consistent financial pressure: the costs of raising children. One aspect of this was that these costs are not static; rather they change with the children themselves. A sudden growth spurt for instance can within a month or two mean that an entire wardrobe needs to be replaced. Once the teenage years begin, peer pressure and fashion trends come into play. School uniforms, school trips and projects that have to be paid for add to the list. Christmas brings its own depressingly regular annual burden. All parents and carers will be familiar with this list. However, for parents living on the lowest incomes, these costs bring pressures upon the weekly, monthly and annual budgets that can push family finances out of control.

  • 25 Daly, M. and Kelly, G. (2015), p. 30.

181Maintaining a ‘healthy family’ also presented a major challenge. A healthy diet takes planning if the adults who are working have long hours and are juggling jobs; and is more expensive where money is already tight. We have seen here, cases of parents only themselves eating after their children have eaten a substantial meal, making do with what is left. This resonates with the experience of some of the families Daly and Kelly (2015) interviewed during their Belfast research.25 Healthy activities for children also bring their own costs. When children get sick the impact upon family life is huge, with working parents and carers having to take time off work with a loss of hours.

182Anxiety and depression had come to define daily life for many of the families. Several participants in the study described feelings of embarrassment about having to look to relatives for help. One consequence of living on a low income is social isolation. Going out with friends or even just as a couple, was seen by all the families as being a luxury; something that was simply out of the question, certainly at any time soon. Emma for example, talked about having nothing to look forward to. In these circumstances, it is no great surprise that alongside of (and linked to) insecure employment and rental status, mental health problems were a part of the family story in many cases.


1 Department for Communities and Local Government (2015), English Housing survey-Households 2013–14, Chapter 1: ‘Trends in Tenure’, p. 23.

2 Ibid., p. 27.

3 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (2015), UK Economic Outlook, ‘UK Housing Market Outlook: The Continuing Rise of Generation Rent’, July.

4 Belfield, C. Chandler, D. and Joyce, R. (2015), ‘Housing: Trends in Prices, Costs and Tenure’, Nuffield Foundation and The Institute for Fiscal Studies, February, p. 2

5 Office for National Statistics (2017),

6 Foster, D. (2015), ‘Eviction is the Last Refuge for Poor Tenants’, The Guardian, 18 February 2016.

7 Davies, E. (2015), ‘Cost of School Uniform 2015’, Department for Education. June,, p. 11.

8 Knight, K. ‘Forget the Local Museum! How Far-flung School Trips Costing up to £3,000 are Leaving Parents Broke—and Fuming’. Mail Online. 25 June 2015.

9 The Children’s Commission on Poverty (2014), At What Cost? Exposing the Impact of Poverty on School Life, October.

10 NHS Choices (2016), ‘NHS in England—Help with Health Costs’,

11 Jones, N., Conklin, A., Suhrcke, M. and Monsivai, P. (2014), ‘The Growing Price Gap between More and Less Healthy Foods: Analysis of a Novel Longitudinal UK Dataset’, PLoS ONE 9 (10): e109343,

12 O’Hara, M. (2014), Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK. Policy Press, p. 215.

13 O’Hara, M. (2015), ‘Cut Off: How Austerity Relates to Our Mental Health’. New Statesman, 6 October.

14 Mental Health Network (2014), ‘Key Facts and Trends in Mental Health: 2014 Update’, NHS Confederation, Fact Sheet, January.

15 Hall, S. and Perry, C. (2013), Family Matters: Understanding Families in an Age of Austerity. Family and Childcare Trust.

16 Hannon, C. (2013), Living Precariously: Families in an Age of Austerity. Family and Childcare Trust, May.

17 Relate (2013), How is Austerity Affecting Our Relationships? Relationships: Our Support Systems in Good Times and Bad,

18 Power, A., Willmot, H. and Davidson, R. (2011), p.

19 Chief executive officer.

20 A government funded agency supporting young people into the world of work.

21 Accident and emergency.

22 Obsessive compulsive disorder.

23 A request was made not to attribute this comment, even using a different name.

24 Free street entertainment, but with cost of travel into town.

25 Daly, M. and Kelly, G. (2015), p. 30.

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