'Sometimes I Can’t Afford Food Or Nappies For My Son'

Parents are facing a 'cost of children' crisis. This is the very real impact.
Jo and Charlene share their stories.
Action for Children
Jo and Charlene share their stories.

Families with children are among the hardest hit by high inflation, in what the charity Action for Children has dubbed the ‘cost of children crisis’.

One in five homes with children were classed as being in “serious financial difficulty” in May this year, according to data analysed by the charity.

Jo, 24, from North Devon, is a stay-at-home mum with a two-year-old son who has developmental delays and behavioural issues. Her partner works full-time, but they depend on Universal Credit to get by each month.

Before the pandemic and having her son, Jo also worked full-time. She says she would love to go back to work, but it just isn’t possible with the extortionate cost of childcare – the average cost of putting a child under two in nursery full-time is just shy of £15,000 – and her son’s additional needs.

The mum says it’s now impossible to keep up with her family’s bills and buy everything they need.

“I have to pick and choose which bills to pay each month and sometimes I can’t afford to buy food or nappies for my son,” she says.

“I’ve skipped meals before to make sure I can feed my child and that he has what he needs. Pretty much all my money is gone the day it comes into my account.”

Jo says she often has about £40 for the rest of the month, including for food shopping.

“It’s just not enough. I’ve cut back on absolutely everything, including essentials. I’m already in debt and end up taking on more to cover bills,” she adds.

Last month, HuffPost UK reported that over half of all mothers (52%) have debts outside their mortgage and student loan, with almost one in 10 mums owing more than £20,000.

The data, from Workingmums.co.uk, revealed the cost of living crisis is piling additional financial pressure onto families, leaving them struggling to pay for childcare and basic food supplies.

“I worry my son is going to miss out on things in his life because I can’t afford them, and that’s really hard,” adds Jo.

“It has a negative impact on my mental health, it’s overwhelming and upsetting when you see the cupboards are empty. Not being able to afford the basics makes me feel useless.”

““I worry my son is going to miss out on things in his life because I can’t afford them, and that’s really hard."”

Compared to households without children, families with children were three times more likely to be behind on household bills or debt repayments, according to Action for Children.

They’re also twice as likely to be behind on rent or mortgage payments, or to have gone without food when hungry.

Single parents fared the worst, with a quarter being in “serious financial difficulties” – higher than any other family type.

Charlene, 36, from Devon has a six-year-old daughter and is a single mum who relies on Universal Credit as she is medically unable to work due to living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and mental health issues.

But the money she does get “doesn’t go far enough,” she says.

“I’ve cut back on absolutely everything, but I’ve still had times when I’ve looked in the cupboards and they’re empty. I skip meals several times a week and often just eat cereal for a main meal as that’s all I have left from the food parcel.”

Her daughter gets a hot lunch at school every day, which provides some peace of mind. But during the school holidays, ensuring she gets a daily hot meal “is a big worry” for the parent.

“Keeping up with my gas bill has also become a huge problem. I have a chronic lung condition called COPD, and my daughter has asthma, so I have to keep the house warm in the winter,” she adds.

“It makes me feel awful that I can’t provide basic things for her. It’s just degrading as a parent. When you’re hungry and worrying about feeding your child, you can’t focus on anything else.”

Paul Carberry, chief executive at Action for Children, said the “UK is in the midst of a cost-of-children crisis, where a parent penalty premium makes every day a battle for low-income families just to stay afloat”.

“With more mouths to feed, clothes to wash, rooms to heat and typically fewer savings, families with children are especially vulnerable to financial shocks, and that pressure is being felt most by those on low-incomes, and single parents in particular,” he added.

The charity is calling on the government to protect low-income families by increasing social security levels in line with inflation at the Autumn Statement and to reform future Cost of Living Payments to take family size into account.

It also wants to see family incomes boosted further through an increase to the child element of Universal Credit and a scrapping of the Benefit Cap, both of which could help lift more than 300,000 children out of poverty.

A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK the welfare system “provides a strong financial safety net for those who need extra support” and added there are nearly two million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010.

“But we know some families are struggling, which is why we have raised benefits by over 10% this year, are focused on halving inflation, have provided record financial support worth around £3,300 per household, and have announced another increase to the National Living Wage,” they added.

They also nodded to the expansion of free childcare for working parents, which will save eligible parents up to £6,500 per year.

Plenty of parents are now bracing themselves for a harsh winter. Jo says she’s “dreading” the season as she’s already struggling to top up her pay-as-you go energy meter.

She’s being supported by Action for Children, which has paid for her gas and electric a few times, and bought nappies for her son.

“I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have their help,” she adds.

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