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Life on the Breadline for Single Parents: What It's Really Like

Posted: 08/04/2013 00:00

This was the week that the debates about our welfare system seemed to finally lose their grip with reality. Accusations flew, rhetoric abounded and, with the Philpott case, one newspaper made a particularly grotesque leap to try and paint this convicted criminal as a poster-boy for what they decried as the welfare 'lifestyle'.

Meanwhile, on the ground, huge changes are taking place to benefits that will affect millions of ordinary - and, dare we say it - hard-working families.

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition asking DWP minister Iain Duncan Smith to try living on £53 a week. Mr Duncan Smith has dismissed the petition as a stunt, though many argue that all they are doing is asking the man who wields such power over their lives to walk a week in their shoes.

We asked single parents to tell us what life on the breadline was really like for them. And in just 24 hours we were inundated with responses.

Some people told us about the struggle they already face to manage their money day to day, week to week:

"I have around £20 a week to spend on food for my three children and I after paying bills."

"During the summer I cannot claim anything and cannot work due to childcare problems, so have to make a small amount go a very long way (until October). I eat one meal per day, we have no holidays or days out... and birthdays are particularly difficult times. I have been doing this for three years now."

"I know my shopping list down to the last penny, if anything unexpected comes up or needs buying I have to sacrifice something else 'essential'."

"I earn £9 too much a month to qualify for clothing grants or school meals. That means for my daughter to have a hot lunch at school I have to pay £40 a month - for the sake of earning £9 a month too much. According to the government's own statistics my daughter and I live below the breadline yet do not qualify for free school meals, free milk, clothing grants, fuel payments, housing or council tax benefits... when you work it out I could be just the same financially if I wasn't working. It makes no sense!"

"I am a working single parent with a seven-year-old. Every day I have to make a choice between essential purchases. I went back to work when my daughter was six months old and it wasn't as hard back then, even with paying private childcare."

Then there are the stark facts that show how it impacts on their children:

"If I think about it too much I cry, so I do anything to keep from thinking about my child saying: 'We're poor aren't we mum.'"

"My child is now locked into the poverty trap. She doesn't expect anything so is not prepared for a struggle and seems resigned to the fact that she will always be poor. It is so sad."

"It is sad when your child is the only one who cannot go on their school trip... It is sad when your children's shoes have worn out and you cannot afford to buy new ones..."

And how they feel about the stigma of being poor and claiming benefits:

"Having to weather the tirade of humiliating and degrading rhetoric from the government... marks your family out as different and undeserving."

"Does Iain Duncan Smith know? Has he or Mr Cameron or Nick Clegg lived as a lone parent? Have they had to miss meals, had no heating, been off sick unpaid?"

"We are statistics, percentages and mathematical equations... we are not real people..."

"To be made to feel like you deserve to be freezing cold, hungry, scared every day of the situation you're in and how that's affecting your children is so, so, so wrong."

This is the real 'lifestyle' those struggling to make ends meet are enjoying. It's happening in every town and city, and these cuts mean more and more families will be feeling the same way as the parents we spoke to this week. We think it's wrong, and we don't think it has to be like this.

We're asking more people to contribute their voices to the debate. You can add yours here: gingerbread.org.uk

 

Follow Caroline Davey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gingerbreadPA

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