This piece, from Jack Widdop, was first published in June in CPAG's Poverty journal.
Hello. My name is Jack. I’m 16 and I live in West Yorkshire. I’m the youngest of three sons. I have two older brothers aged 22 and 24, both of whom have moved out, so it’s just me and my Mom at home. I’m her young carer. She has been disabled since 2011, and we live off her disability benefits. This is an account of how I’ve been coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Home life has been tough, especially for me. I feel like I've been living in a “Groundhog Day'' situation every day for the past year, with nothing really changing much. I wake up, do something for the day, go to sleep, repeat. It's getting quite annoying, but at least things are starting to open up in these troublesome times now that the third lockdown is easing.
Unfortunately, because of Mom’s ill health, we’ve had to shield as much as possible. This has taken an even greater toll on our wellbeing because we can’t go out as much as the next able‐bodied person. Also, I feel like I can't afford to get sick, because I wouldn’t be able to look after Mom. Having that on my mind all the time is increasingly stressful.
I started being home educated in September 2019. Although I was considered academic, I was constantly being bullied, and I struggled to cope in school.
I have many interests, such as gardening, farming, design and technology, water sports, cycling, boating, history, graffiti art, campaigning and music. These form the basis of my home education programme.
Before the first lockdown, I was able to go out and about without any restrictions. Every Friday, I would go to Leeds to participate in a group called Canal Connections – a charity promoting the history of the UK’s waterways. I am learning to skipper a canal boat, participating in a John Muir environmental award at Knostrop Lock and refurbishing a lock keeper’s cottage into a community hub. I also participated in Hop‐On’s cycling programme in Lister Park, Bradford.
I was going to do a blacksmithing course at the National Coal Mining Museum and an animal husbandry course at a local farm. But the pandemic caused everything I wanted to do and was participating in to grind to a halt, since everything I did and enjoyed was group‐based and outside the house. This made it quite tough to find ways to work around this dilemma, and Zoom meetings are not a good enough replacement.
The pandemic has been a real struggle for me and my family. I've felt distressed, emotionally sick and scared. My Mom needed surgery again for her spine, but it was delayed twice until November last year.
Other big impacts included panic buying due to lockdowns. All the cheapest items (eg, Morrisons’ own brands) were totally gone, leaving only empty shelves and the more expensive items. When shopping for my Mom, I could only feel anger as I saw people taking entire shelves of items, and it showed how even though we were all told to be kind in this situation, selfishness still ensued as people showed little regard for others. It was a disappointing spectacle.
I honestly can't think of any positives to this pandemic. I feel as if it's torn us as a people apart even more. We have people thinking the virus isn’t real – anti‐maskers, anti‐vaxxers and others – when people I know became so ill they nearly died.
I feel it's distracting us from other problems, such as what our government is doing – eg, voting against funding free school meals over the school holidays, which is vital for families on the lowest incomes. Poverty during the pandemic has skyrocketed and people need all the help they can get.
Solutions to handle the pandemic would be to not ease lockdown until infection rates reach a critical low, so future outbreaks can be more controlled. Increasing, not slashing, funding for the NHS would have meant it was more prepared. But our government chose austerity, which we have had to deal with for 10+ years.
My only wish is that the link between poverty and ill health is looked into more, so we can learn how to handle such situations better in the future.