Documenting life on a low income this winter

Published on: 
10 December 2021
Written by: 

Kim & Ruth (Covid Realities)

Between July 2020 and July 2021, we worked together to document life on a low income during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through the Covid Realities research programme, over 100 parents and carers kept online diaries about what everyday life was like, and took part in online discussion groups to explore what needs to change and why. As a participant (Kim) and a researcher (Ruth) working together on this project, we wanted so share our reflections.

Covid Realities has made sure the voices of families in poverty are heard, and are part of broader debates about social security policy now and in the future. It’s highlighted issues with the (in)adequacy of current support, and we’ve developed recommendations for change that are rooted in the expertise that comes from living with poverty, and receiving social security support for all or most of your income.

As we approached this winter, we knew that many families face a triple whammy of the extra costs that always come with the colder weather, a cost of living crisis and reduced support because of the £20 cut to universal credit. We also knew that broader changes to universal credit for working families needed to be monitored closely. We felt it was essential to document what life is like for families on a low income through this winter. Covid Realities meant we had the tools to do just that.

And that is why we have decided to reopen our diaries until February 2022, creating a space for families to document their experiences, and to generate evidence that we can share directly with politicians and policymakers. The diaries give the real stories of the struggles and difficult decisions that families face daily since the £20 cut to universal credit. It’s not too late to get involved, either. If you’re a family living on a low income you can take part, sharing what life is like for you and your family right now.

Kim explains why the diaries reopening matters for her:

It allows us a safe space to write out and work through some of the issues surrounding life on low income, especially in winter when it becomes far more expensive to keep a family in basics like food and heat. This year, with such large increases in costs for fuel and food, life is already hard and it’s only going to get harder. The diary is the place I know I can write out my fears and there is someone reading it, us both knowing we are not alone.

We are hopeful that the evidence we generate through Covid Realities can be part of conversations to help create a better future. Through Covid Realities we want to bring the everyday experiences of families on a low income to the forefront of news and really show people the true positions people in low-income families face. We will continue to work with all participants to fight for change.


Note: The project on which the above draws has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.