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When we ask Terri-Anne Hamer how she has coped with four months of home-schooling, she talks about craft-making, baking and helping her children stay on top of their school work.
But for the single mum from Leeds, every one of these activities has been against the odds – even the simple act of responding to her children’s constant pleas for food.
“I had to explain to the kids that we only had mummy’s money and life was harder now we were in a lockdown.
“It is difficult to try and get your children to understand an adult world,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Terri-Anne has spent the last four months home-schooling three children single-handedly. But in addition to that – she is also in a final year of a degree herself – and surviving on Universal Credit payments and student finance.
One of the toughest moments the family experienced was when their internet – a complete lifeline during lockdown – was cut off.
“We only had one device with the internet on in the home and that was my mobile phone. Everyone was jacking onto my hotspot and the mobile data was so slow,” Terri-Anne, 34, who lives in Leeds, told HuffPost UK.
“You feel like you are begging a stranger for your internet. It is completely degrading.”
Despite her pleas for an extension to their internet connection while she waited for her benefit payments to come through, the company cut the service off.
You feel like you are begging a stranger for your internet. It is completely degrading.
“All I wanted was for them to give me two days while I waited for my Universal Credit. But they said they could only give me a payment extension once every 12 months, and because I had already used it [...] they were reluctant to give me an extension even for two days.
“So they disconnected me and we had no internet.”
Terri-Anne’s struggles are not an unfamiliar story for families around the country who face enormous financial challenges during the coronavirus crisis while also suddenly having to educate their own children.
“The build up of pressures are taking a major toll on parents’ mental and physical health and damaging family life during an intense period for everyone,” Helen Barnard, acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says.
Terri-Anne, who is in her final year of studying a BA degree in young people, communities and societies at Leeds Beckett University, says she and her children spent days trying to submit school and university work over a scrappy mobile phone connection.
“The kids couldn’t do their schoolwork properly or play games. There was a lot of arguing.”
Terri-Anne says as a single mum, she felt the financial impact of having her three children at home while schools have been shut to the majority of children.
Suddenly, I had to worry about how to feed them throughout the day. Children eat a lot more during lockdown as they are bored."
“When Covid-19 happened and the schools closed, I felt happy that my children would be at home and safe,” said Terri-Anne. “But I also felt panicked about money and about how I was going to manage my uni work when I was on the last bit of my degree.
“Usually, I didn’t have to worry about the kids’ lunches from Monday to Friday as they had them at nursery and school and they were on free meals.
“But suddenly, I had to worry about how to feed them throughout the day. Children eat a lot more during lockdown as they are bored. You feel bad saying no as they think they are hungry as there’s nothing else for them to do.”
Terri-Anne rents her home from a housing association and says she faced being evicted last year as being changed over on to Universal Credit put her into arrears.
But the Leeds mum has faced impoverishment and hardships all her life.
The eldest child of parents who were drug and alcohol users, Terri-Anne grew up in a backdrop of poverty and was in and out of care since she was a small baby.
At the age of 24, she became her brother’s foster carer. By this time, she had also had her son Kaemon, who was six months old.
Terri-Anne was in the final stretch of her degree writing her dissertation when coronavirus hit and the lockdown happened.
“At the time, my ex-partner was living on the sofa so suddenly, we were cooped up together for 24 hours a day.
“After about four weeks, I realised I just couldn’t function as I was trying to homeschool my kids, going to the bedroom to try and do my own work and juggling the cooking and looking after the house and was doing most of it myself. It wasn’t working out, so I made my former partner leave.”
Terri-Anne is mum to Kaemon Smith, 10, daughter Amayah Durrani, six and youngest son AJ Durrani, four who Terri-Anne affectionately describes as “the craziest of the three.”
At times, Terri-Anne felt surviving on a few hours of sleep became unsustainable and trying to juggle everything and switch from “mum mode” to “academic mode” felt overwhelming. Her university gave her the chance to defer but she didn’t want to put her degree on hold any longer as she wants to study a Masters next.
Terri-Anne said: “I run on survival mode. I know what needs to be done and I just crack on with it. I don’t think about it until the end of the day when I’m exhausted.”
Terri-Anne has organised educational activities to capture the interest of all three of her children such as getting them to make time capsules and giving them a list of things to find during a scavenger hunt.
Kaemon is ahead of his years education-wise and has been put on a gifted and talented list. Although he is in Year 5, his Maths is at Year 9 level and his English is at Year 8 level.
“Kaemon does a lot of reading and I don’t have to ask him as he just does it. He gets up and does his online learning and gets online certificates.”
When it comes to her own university work, Terri-Anne finds there aren’t enough hours in the day in between homeschooling, organising activities, cooking and running a household.
“I have had to do my uni work through the night as that is the only time I get on my own to do it,” she admitted.
“I was home schooling and maintaining the house and being a mum during the day. Then I would grab an hour to eat and chill then do my uni work once the kids had gone to bed.
“I am usually doing uni work until 3am or 4am. But the following day, I am still getting up at 7am, making breakfast and doing the homeschooling with the children.”
I run on survival mode. I know what needs to be done and I just crack on with it. I don’t think about it until the end of the day when I’m exhausted.”
The fact that she is a university student has made homeschooling easier, Terri-Anne believes. “If I was not at uni, I wouldn’t have a laptop or printer in the house.” she said. “Being at uni has put me in a better position for home schooling as I have the equipment and better knowledge.
“However, even though I’m at uni, I forget how to explain the basics of English to my children as I’m used to using words without thinking about them.
“I’ve had to google things like: ‘What’s a noun?’ and ‘What’s an adjective?’ just to remind myself. I can only imagine how hard it must be for children whose parents are illiterate or don’t have the education to help them.
“If my kids had been with someone like my mum and dad, it would have been a very different story for them.”
Money is a constant source of worry for Terri-Anne. She is on Universal Credit but as she gets a student loan, she told HuffPost UK that they take away the child element. She gets around £60 a week through Universal Credit and £48 a week child benefit. And because she is studying, she is not getting the child element of Universal Credit.
“Before going to uni, I was getting income support and tax credits.” she said. “My student loan is supposed to be for my studies and living expenses, but I’ve had to use it for the kids and bills instead of the books I should have been buying.
“When lockdown happened, I was six weeks away from getting my next student grant payment.”
Terri-Anne told HuffPost UK she would do little things like hair-plaiting or cooking and selling the excess or babysitting to earn a bit of extra cash for her family. But when lockdown happened, all these things ceased and finances became a struggle.
“Having the children at home has meant all sorts of extra costs.” Terri-Anne said.
“One printer cartridge cost £20 and after two weeks of printing out three children’s work, it had run out. I couldn’t afford to buy another one so I rang the school and asked if Kaemon could do his work in an exercise book and then I would take a photo and upload it to them instead.
Having the children at home has meant all sorts of extra costs. Even little things like printer ink are really expensive."
“But this was time-consuming as I could only upload one photo at a time.
“There have been moments where I have felt my children are missing out on the advantages better off children get in terms of resources, although I try my best.”
Terri-Anne says luckily, she has always stocked up on arts and crafts materials from budget suppliers, and has always done baking and cooking with her children.
Managing financially became so challenging, Terri-Anne has had to get help from food banks every couple of weeks. “There is a local charity which was redistributing produce for families. But I had to tell them we only eat halal food and no pork. My youngest two children are Muslim but I cook the same food for us all.”
I had to explain to the kids that we only had mummy’s money and life was harder now we were in a lockdown. It is difficult to try and get your children to understand an adult world.”
Terri-Anne says she is also fortunate as she and her children live in a four-bedroom house rented from a housing association. “Our rent works out at about £128 a week,” she said. “But I now have to pay bedroom tax for one of the rooms since my brother moved out.
“We are also lucky as we live in Chapel Allerton which is an OK area. We only got a place here by chance a few years ago when it became available. Before that, we were living in Armley where me and the kids experienced a lot of racism and there were issues with people drinking and taking drugs in the street.”
Terri-Anne says a lack of physical and social support by not being able to meet up with other people has hit her and her children the hardest.
She also urged people not to pass judgement on how other parents behave.
“I had one woman tell me I should have left my children at home when I went to the shops with them,” she said.
“I would urge people not to judge someone and think they are being a bad parent. Take the time to get to know a person and have some empathy.”
Terri-Anne has mixed emotions about her children returning to school in September.
“With my youngest starting school, that will be another uniform to buy and I don’t know where I’ll find the money.
I would urge people not to judge someone and think they are being a bad parent. Take the time to get to know a person and have some empathy."
“I don’t know how I’ll cope during the summer trying to keep the kids fed and entertained with limited money.
“It is my daughter’s birthday in September and I am worried about how to make it special for her when I can’t afford the basics.
“I am dreading what is still to come and how I will cope financially and emotionally.”
Helen Barnard, acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a social change organisation working to solve UK poverty, told HuffPost UK: “Families are dealing with high costs with children at home and many simply haven’t got the income they need to weather the storm.
“Home schooling has been a challenge for many parents and children during lockdown, but for those on a low income, not having access to computers and low-cost internet access and not having a decent home environment to learn in can make the challenge even more acute.
“The build up of pressures are taking a major toll on parents’ mental and physical health and damaging family life during an intense period for everyone.”
Barnard says they are campaigning for an urgent increase of £20 a week for families claiming benefits to help prevent them plunging into poverty.
“By taking action now, we can ensure that the human suffering of this tragic pandemic is not compounded by rising child poverty, damaging life chances and holding a generation back in the years to come.”