“My rent alone takes up 95% of the benefits I receive, but my family are stuck here... until we’re made homeless.” Challenging poverty in a time of COVID
I am a widow and solo parent, who lost my husband, leaving two young children. I have been affected by multiple changes to the benefits system. I’m both affected by the benefit cap (which limits how much I can receive, irrespective of my family’s needs) and penalised for having an extra bedroom. My rent alone takes up 95% of the benefits I receive, but my family are stuck here in high rent accommodation until we’re made homeless. Because of the benefit cap, I’m not eligible for the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit – a one-year increase intended to help people at their time of greatest need, during the pandemic.
I found Covid Realities on social media through following Child Poverty Action Group, one of project’s partners. After reading about it, I decided participating in Covid Realities would be the perfect opportunity to be heard and address the situation of the infliction of poverty by the benefits system during the pandemic - though I do hope the general situation continues to be addressed for so long as poverty exists. Definitely sharing experiences and hearing others who are in similar position, for example by reading diary entries that they are happy to share, is a source of support. Poverty in itself is isolating, particularly during this time of the pandemic.
During this time I’ve noticed increasing groups of people finding themselves living in receipt of benefits, or where their income has been greatly reduced – and find themselves navigating the world of benefits. I hear of people in these circumstances realising what little (if at all) is left over from the extravagance of rent and bills. The very same people may even be working and still struggle. Benefits are certainly not a lifestyle choice. They were not what I envisaged for the future.
Poverty can affect anyone, all it takes is a change in circumstances. Bereavement, domestic violence, a job loss or an illness are all contributing factors. I would like those who have not experienced poverty to have some insight as to why anyone can find themselves in this predicament. As one of the richest countries in the world we should be looking more at social justice and equality in society.
There is a huge amount of shame and stigmatisation for those living in poverty. It has far reaching implications for the future of our children.
I am desperately hoping for something to change. Firstly, I would like the government to not penalise single parents. Something must be done about the lack of paid work available during the school hours. As a solo parent, I would like to see more support to achieve this - either by providing a mandatory increased after school club provision or an incentivisation for childminders to increase their hours for school aged children. We do need an overhaul in the benefits system, understandably this is asking for a lot, the benefit cap should definitely be lifted.
Aurora is taking part in the Nuffield Foundation funded 'Covid Realities' research programme. You can find out more about the project; and emergent findings at www.covidrealities.org/learnings