Some UK parents are making sacrifices, such as delaying heating their house, showering less frequently, considering selling sentimental possessions, and cancelling vacations, in order to manage the financial strain caused by the high cost of living.
Based on research by the charity Action for Children using abrdn’s financial fairness tracker, it is estimated that approximately 1.5 million households with children, which accounts for 19% of all households, are experiencing severe financial struggles. This is in contrast to only 13% of households without children.
The nonprofit organization has labeled the issue as a “financial burden of having children” and is appealing to the authorities to offer specific aid for parents in need, such as adjusting social welfare rates to match inflation and revising cost of living allowances to consider family size.
As the fall school break approaches, the expenses for food and heating are increasing due to children being at home for longer periods of time.
According to Joe Lane, head of policy at Action for Children, parents will go to great lengths to protect their children from financial stress, which can be very taxing for them.
Families interviewed by the Guardian claimed they were carefully budgeting to ensure their children did not experience any lack.
Jo, a 52-year-old school business administrator from Suffolk, has a 14-year-old son. She shared that she has been limiting her showers to every two or three days in order to save on energy expenses. She reminisced about the practice of stand-up washes at the sink in the 70s and expressed disappointment that it seems like society is regressing.
During the mid-term break, Jo brought her son to a nearby nature reserve and had lunch at home instead of traveling far for a vacation. She mentioned that her husband’s shoes were heavily worn and that they were using their savings to make ends meet.
“We just have no slack in our finances,” she said, noting that direct debits went out straight after payday, so the family was in overdraft and left “scrimping” for three and a half weeks every month
Alexander, who is 47 years old and works as a teacher in Dorset, shared that prices tend to be higher during the holiday season. He mentioned that when he goes to Lidl to do a significant amount of shopping, he carefully considers the prices of items, choosing to purchase the store’s own brand to save money. He also has two children who are 13 and 11 years old.
Even though he was struggling financially, Alexander was excited for his children to visit him during the school break, despite them living with his former partner.
Prior to their arrival, one of his teeth dislodged while he was having breakfast. He received a quote of £90 to visit a dentist under his workplace plan, but only had £50 remaining before reaching his overdraft limit. The tooth would have to be addressed after receiving his next paycheck. His top priority was ensuring his children had a good half-term break.
During the lockdown, Alexander purchased a campervan and occasionally uses it to bring his children to campsites for a budget-friendly vacation that adds a sense of excitement. However, due to an increase of £400 in his monthly mortgage payments, he is contemplating selling it. He is also thinking about selling two guitars that hold sentimental value for him – one bought on his 21st birthday and the other after his grandmother’s passing.
Alexander expressed frustration, stating that one would assume that working in education would provide a sufficient income to afford housing in the town where one teaches. However, he noted that they are trapped in a downward cycle.
Food assistance organizations have observed a significant increase in requests for aid over the past few years, particularly during school breaks. This is due to the fact that many children rely on free meals provided by schools, but are unable to access them during holidays. In England, approximately 23.8% of students are eligible for these meals. A study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that over one million children faced extreme poverty in the previous year.
Ann, a 40-year-old civil servant from Essex, has five children between the ages of two and 14. She reported that her weekly grocery expenses have increased from £85 to £130 recently. This is further compounded by the additional costs of £56 per day for nursery and £120 per child for holiday camp during half-term. Ann has also observed a significant rise in the prices of budget-friendly food items. She specifically mentioned that even something as basic as [Heinz] tomato ketchup has become unaffordable for her family.
In January, she and her husband begin making plans for their summer vacation. She expressed that everything feels tight and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to handle.
Balancing the demands of childcare and work takes a toll on Ann’s marriage. She shared, “We are unable to take vacation time together.” Despite having a strong and loving relationship, they are unable to spend as much time together as they would like due to the necessity of working to make ends meet.
Alex, a 41-year-old music instructor residing in Hampshire and a single parent to an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old autistic child with significant care requirements, finds it challenging to be a responsible parent due to financial strain.
She holds off on adjusting the thermostat until her children are asleep, but is worried about a significant increase in her mortgage payments in 2024. Due to school breaks, she is unable to work and therefore loses income while caring for her daughter at home.
She expressed that the increase in the cost of living has only compounded the already overwhelming stress of her daily life. She also shared that her mental well-being has greatly suffered as a result.
The identities of individuals have been safeguarded through the use of pseudonyms.