THE BLOG
23/12/2013 06:31 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 05:59 GMT

SKINT at Christmas: Could you cope?

It's been a year of grand claims about people living in poverty; the Education Secretary suggested that families use food banks because they can't budget properly, the Government claimed that lone parents could lift themselves out of poverty by working 24 hours a week, and the Work and Pensions Secretary claimed that he could live off a benefits claimant's income of £53 a week.

Which is why Barnardo's has created Skint - a short game that challenges players to walk in the shoes of a parent living in poverty and stay financially 'upright' under a series of unexpected knocks.

Designed to be played, of course, Skint doesn't literally show what life in hardship is like. Under the crumpling characters & pop-up barriers, however, runs the message that poverty generates poverty. And this is all too real.

Take the basic scenario of a low wage-earning parent, whose partner leaves, making the family suddenly dependent on a single income. It's possible to keep above water on £ 1,070.08 a month minimum wage, until childcare costs are factored in. When these strike - at an average £4.26 per hour - it becomes impossible to stay afloat. The fact is that parents will often face paying more to the nursery or minder than the money they earn.

What does a family do in this scenario? One option sees the grandmother agree to help out with childcare, whilst the parent takes shift work to fit in with grandma's hours. Again, this arrangement works until the grandmother falls ill, causing the parent to skip shifts and - as a result - miss out on the vital income that pays the rent.

Another option sees the family move into a cheaper, more poorly insulated house. They default on paying the higher energy bills and are automatically transferred onto an expensive pre-payment meter ( 90% of all meters are installed to collect debt) which ends up costing them £80 more per year.

What happens if the children need new school uniform, or the fridge breaks? With the abolition of the Social Fund, a government-funded emergency hardship grant that has now been replaced by discretionary council payments, families may now have little option but to turn to doorstop lenders with rates that may average 367 per cent APR.

The reality is that while it may be possible to scrape by on a very low wage, any unexpected payment or slight rise in bills can send families spiralling into financial crisis.

This year the The Child Poverty Commission revealed that two thirds of poor children are now from households where someone has a job. With 350,000 people - working and non-working - now turning to Trussell Trust food banks, it's clearly time to change the focus of the poverty debate.

Ultimately, claims that poverty is caused wholly by the people who live in it blind us to the many and nuanced causes of hardship. Among these are low wages, rising food and fuel bills, and high childcare costs.

Improving just one of these areas for low income families will make a huge difference towards helping lift children out of the poverty trap. Skint asks players to help Barnardo's tackle childcare costs for the poorest. It's a good start.

Barnardo's is taking part in ITV's Text Santa appeal.