Cost-of-Living Crisis: How are parents being overlooked?

30th November 2022

As the cost-of-living settles in the for the long term, inflation increases and bills rise, parents are the ‘grey area’ when it comes to help and support within the economic crisis. Ana Lambert looks at how parents are seemingly neglected by the system and how the help available is rarely promoted.

The issues that parents are facing are things that people that for granted, e.g. food, water, heating and mortgages or rent. According to The Guardian, research, conducted by YouGov, suggests that “close to a third of single parents have resorted to skipping meals to make ends meet because of rising food costs.” Unfortunately, the crisis isn’t going to subside soon, as inflation increases.

The cost-of-living crisis – amplified seemingly by the pandemic – is affecting parents from all backgrounds in varying ways, socially and financially. So, who is to take responsibility?

Cabinet member for People, Councillor Joe Howes of the Canterbury City Council, believes councils can take certain responsibilities: “Central government gave a large portion of money, and they identified two key areas; the first were the elderly, because the elderly are a lot more vulnerable with heat and energy bills.

“Then we decided to help people by working age who have become increasingly reliant, especially this time of year, if you think of what we go through as families, school uniforms, kids off to university. People seem to think that when a child goes off to university that’s it, although they’re not part of your household, they are part of your financial household.”

Source: YouGov

Even when it is clear that parents are an over-looked area of society, there is still not enough being done to help. Help doesn’t have to come in the form of money, it also comes in knowledge and advice about what it the best thing for those families at that time – councils should be the ones that are giving the advice, explaining what they can do to help people in dire situations.

Cllr Howes added: “Politically, it’s a big issue, we’ve seen this constantly, both here and nationally. Who has responsibility for what? We’ve seen Kent County Council offer additional support to the most vulnerable.

“In terms of us as a local authority, we have money but the money we get comes from council tax or other charges and you have to think what are the best uses for that money; that’s why we give out grants, because it’s easier to give out grants and get other people to do it because it’s a much further reach that they have due to specialisms.”

However, the parents that do need the help, don’t know where to find it, so still there is a lack of communication for the people that truly need help between those who can give it.

When asked Cllr Howes talked about working with independent charities and foodbanks, and how the council can ‘sign-post’ them: “So it’s working with that group, working with empty nesters – for a horrible expression – that need support and primary school children going to school for the first time, so there are community hubs which we’re working with, there’s one at Whitstable at the Umbrella Centre, they also have a foodbank.

“That’s done through the council, as the council have leased the building to them to use. There's also one being set up in Herne Bay, there’s a lady called Maya, she’s a Ukrainian lady, and with what’s been happening in Ukraine she started off only supporting – or trying to support – those who had come over.

“However, it’s now become a huge community hub, so she set up outside her café a foodbank and a clothes bank, where people can just help themselves, at any time of day or night. So, people are pulling together so we can sign post people about where these things are.”

A YouGov poll for UNICEF UK, conducted in August this year, showed that the soaring prices of essentials, childcare and a lack of local support groups or organisations are pushing families to their ‘breaking points’.

From the poll, 59% of parents said they were struggling with their mental health, with those on lower incomes most likely to be affected. Meanwhile, 66% of people have been affected negatively by the rising cost-of-living.

Cllr Howes talked about how he is helping a single dad, in serious debt. He highlights how preventing debt early can help curb stress – an exacerbator of mental health problems: “I’m currently dealing with a single dad, who’s managed to run up a debt of £6,500, but he doesn’t know how he’s done that. Because he didn’t open letters and such.

“If he had contacted someone much earlier than we could have looked at a way out now £6,500 down he’s getting a lot of threatening letters from bailiffs, so he’s dealing with that additional stress so we can go in and help him, but if we could have helped him earlier it would have had less of an impact on him.”

In another worrying sign, almost a fifth of single parent households and one in seven couples with children said they had missed a vital bill payment, such as their mortgage or rent, in September and October. On average, the missed payment rate was 8%.

“The single dad I’m dealing with at the moment; he contacted me yesterday and I referred him to a debt manager who is going to go through all his expenses and actually find a solution to them. And phone up people on his behalf and arrange with people new payments, which means he’s going to be able to send his child off to school with breakfast.

“Instead of the dad taking everything on board himself and struggling, and he openly admits he’s struggling, were able to provide that support, giving someone to talk to but we’re also able to refer him to organisations who can phone up who he owes money to and talk about putting plans in place. And they will because they know that we’re doing it, we have that reputation I suppose to be able to do that,” said Cllr Howes.

The Nuffield Foundation, an independent organization with a mission for social well-being, found economic pressures cause impacts to parents’ mental health.

Equally, less access to support and more inter-parental conflict due to rising costs has caused damaged for parents’ mental health. Over 70% of parents of young children report that being a parent is stressful and that they feel judged as a parent by others.

There have also been cases noticed and dealt with by Cllr Howes that have ended in family breakdowns, where money is often the issue.

“I’ve seen it increasingly more, where couples are splitting up and leaving one person with the debts and they just don’t know how to get out of it. This is because they’re not just paying for one home but two – so the cost-of-living crisis is making this whole thing worse.” Cllr Howes said.

So how can these parents get help in this situation? One way is through the council itself, when the situation is dire enough, e.g. debt that people are struggling to pay off, the council can help and set up payments and plans with the companies that are owed money.

Another way can be through the Citizens Advice website or Step Change – a free debt advice charity. “The worst thing for people is to get into difficulty because once you’re in that difficulty its actually understanding how to get out of that. I suppose it’s the ‘ostrich syndrome’, people just stick their heads in the sand until it’s too late.” Cllr Howes comments.

I’m working to live but at the same time I’m not living.

— Kelly Martin

Living in Herne Bay, as a single parent of three, Kelly Martin highlighted that working as she does doesn’t give her the quality of life she wants with her children.

The rising cost of living is having a toll on a significant toll on Kelly, she feels more pressure due to stresses caused by her work to pay the bills and spend time with her children: “I sit there and think I need to work more but actually that doesn’t benefit us because the more you work the more money they take of you anyway, so all I’m doing is spending more and more time away from kids, getting more and more stressed.

“I can’t be at home to look after them, I can’t do the school run, I can’t do the housework, I leave at half past five in the morning and don’t get back until six or seven at night. I’m exhausted and I’m forever telling people that I’m fine – I’m one of these people that put on a brave face and get on with it. But most of the time I get in from work and see my kids, the youngest for about an hour then I have to put her to bed, I spend another hour with my kids and then I’m in bed by nine.”

Maya is Kelly’s good friend, a lady from Ukraine, and the owner of Maya’s Herne Bay, a bubble tea café that has created a food and clothes bank outside the café for the local community.

She mentions how it’s a struggle to get to the café to see Maya, because everything is so expensive, while also she is working long hours but not seeing any type of reward: “I stretch myself to come down and see Maya, because we’re really, really close and she does a lot for me, but other than that cost wise everything is so expensive, sometimes I think is it worth me working, I’m working to live but at the same time I’m not living."

Kelly mentions how she rarely gets to have time with her children after work and how it impacts her: “I don’t get the time to see them because I’m always working. If off on a Wednesday and a Sunday, and every other Sunday there with their dad so I don’t see them two Sundays in a month and when I am off, they’re at school so I don’t see them.

“But yes, it is a really, really hard time for all of us and in a way, I am lucky to be working, because there are a lot of single mums out there that don’t as much as I get that bit more money for working, sometimes if you actually weigh it up you don’t benefit from working.”

The crisis is now having even more of an impact on her due to rising bills that could have been used elsewhere for her and her children. “If I’m totally honest I do struggle. I work full time, I do forty hours a week, but end up doing more because of the work, which means I get no time with my children. By the time I get home it’s six, seven o’clock at night.

“My mum is the only person that can help with childcare. I don’t know how people can do it if they didn’t have someone and of course if anything happens to my mum, I’ve have no childcare and that’s my job gone, my income gone, everything.”

According to the ONS, rising food prices made a large rising contribution to change with transport (principally motor fuels and second-hand car prices) making the largest partially offsetting, downward contribution to the change in the rates. Families, both single parent and married, are feeling the stretch on their incomings, and how little it goes now.

Yvonne Bee, a local canterbury resident and single mother of one, mentioned how she is worrying over being able to provide and support both herself and her daughter, as her daughter is nearing the end of sixth form: “As a single parent with only one wage coming into the household I am particularly struggling. Single wage households are not recognised as needing extra help.

“Yes, I get child tax credits but once you’ve taken into account haircuts, toiletries, clothes, school bus pass, school trips it doesn’t go very far. My daughter is 17 and does have a Saturday job so she pays for her phone and clothing other than the necessities. Come July the extra that I receive stops as she will be 18 and finishing school.

Yvonne wants her daughter to be able to do her magazine apprenticeship in London when she finishes school but worries about the cost: “She will be earning pittance and much of that will go on her commuting fare. Although she will contribute what she can and start paying for her own haircuts and clothing it won’t cover the full cost of her still living here yet she won’t be able to afford to live on her own.

As prices increase, Yvonne has concerns for their future as currently, their heating is not on and her daughter has been told to stop showering daily due to the cost: “I worry about her future really, I’m ok at the moment having cut down my expenses to only the bare minimum, but it’s no life really.

"I feel like I am only working to pay the bills as that’s all I can afford. I am a newly qualified teacher and work long hours, as a professional I feel that I really shouldn’t be struggling as much as I am.”

And as soon as it comes, it goes immediately

- Maya

Another example of the demand of foodbanks and food parcels would be Maya’s Herne Bay. There was such a demand for help that Maya created support. The local Co-op, Job centre and community help her with donations. She started this in the summer and as a Ukrainian herself appealed mostly to helping Ukrainians fleeing war.

However, during the recent height of the cost-of-living crisis, she has opened her reach to those who need it. She said: “The housing problem isn’t just for Ukrainians it’s for everyone, global inflation all these bills, electric, gas, it’s just going up and nowhere. I post about the food, and its gone – like today I posted that I had six big baskets of food – within the hour it was completely empty. People bring me canned goods, you know soup, pasta, stuff like sugar too. And as soon as it comes, it goes immediately.”

The most recent official data showed food price inflation his 16.4% in October – the highest its been since 1977 – because of big increases in the cost of staples such as milk, butter, cheese, pasta and eggs. One in ten single parents told Which? they had used a foodbank in the past two months compared with an overall figure of 3%.

Tim Cook, a member of the Connecting Canterbury charity, commented on how due to the rise in food over the past eighteen months more and more people are needing food packages: “Everybody that’s coming in is needing something, we do actually also deliver to some families, but that’s only to families that can’t get out – they’ve probably got people that have physical disabilities or illnesses that stop them too, or they need to shield from Covid.

“We have probably about eight families, that we deliver too. One of them has four kids, so they need quite a lot of support, food wise. Having a big family, your benefits aren’t going to go very far.

"In regard to seeing an increase, during lockdown, we were still doing our eight deliveries but then we were also doing twenty to thirty food parcels but since then its increased, up until October this year, we have done over two thousand food parcels.”

Source: Youtube - Channel 4

Another worry of parents are the rising food prices, a basic necessity. Which?, a consumer advice company, wants supermarkets to ensure prices are easy to compare and that budget food ranges are widely available.

According to The Guardian, Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy said: “As food prices continue to increase it is crucial that everyone is able to access affordable food that is healthy for themselves and their families.”

However that isn’t necessarily possible for some people, especially in the current climate, and they have to turn to foodbanks and community support for help.

Liz Rook, member of the Canterbury community larder, Connecting Canterbury, talked about how the rise in prices have affected people and how the charity has seen an increase in all areas: “We’ve seen an increase of foodbanks being used across the board, including parents, yes. It is dramatically different from what it was years ago, when we might have been giving out eight food bags a week, there’s been a dramatic increase from that.

“We work particularly in the Northgate ward, which is the poorest ward in the city. Where rates of poverty are higher in children than any of the boroughs in London. And so I will go and speak to the soroptimists – who want me to speak and appeal on this topic – and I will make an appeal that if anything they can do to help us either by financially, or by giving food. We’re not proud we’ll take anything people can offer us, because it all helps.”

Which? said households will experienced different rates of inflation, with single parents and pensioners badly hit because they spend a greater proportion – 30% - of their budget on food, energy and fuel.

For couples, with children this drops to about a quarter.
However, all households are spending significantly more of their income on essentials than they did a year ago. The cost-of-living crisis, isn’t going to go away.

Self-employed, married mother of two, Lorraine Barton highlighted how even couples with two incomes are finding the crisis hard to navigate:

“It seems yet again myself and my family fall into the ‘grey area’ of society. An area where we are on our own, wadding through these unprecedented times with added anxiety. Anxiety which has been brooding for the last three years of uncertainty. Our wage doesn’t change, the wage we have worked hard to get.

“Neither of us, my husband and I, have been out of work since we were 16 and have never had a union to fall back on. Yes, it has got my ongoing, unsettling mortgage for my wonderful home that I half own, but who will help me when my next fixed rate skyrockets?

"Who helps me as a homeowner and full-time worker with school trips, school dinners, uniform, heating, water, food, house maintenance, the two cars we need for work? Something needs to change for the better.”

When talking about foodbanks and the current social climate, Mrs Barton said:
“On the topic of what can be done to help the crisis, people and officials must start with making sure those who claim are 100% genuine. I do agree with pension increase, that is necessary. Also, essential foodbanks are a result of something clearly going wrong with this country, it’s a disgrace that we need them.”

News from the Office of Budget Response (OBR) – the government’s independent forecasters – is that the inflation rate will drop to 7.4% next year. The target set for inflation is 2%. This does not stop inflation – but slow it down. Prices in shops will increase but at a slower rate than before.

The OBR said soaring inflation would still hit households’ real disposable income – a measure of living standards – by the largest amount since official records began in 1956-57 falling by 4.3%.

Even so, the OBR forecast that inflation might turn negative, in other words prices may fall by late 2024.

This might be too late for some parents, as they are already struggling, even with foodbanks and benefits, more must be done to help and that doesn’t just fall on communities pitching in together.