Social Justice

Children as young as 14 are having to get jobs to provide for their families

As soaring energy bills and inflation leave households struggling to make ends meet, children as young as 14 are having to provide for their families

Young people are taking on work to provide for their families during the cost of living crisis. Image: Andrew Tanglao on Unsplash

With Britain in the grips of the worst cost of living crisis since the 1950s and budgets becoming increasingly stretched, children as young as 14 are having to “grow up fast” and provide for their families.

A looming 80 per cent rise in energy bills and a lack of short-term support from Liz Truss’s new government means it promises to be a long winter for millions of people across the UK.

As a result, there has been a rise in teenagers being pressured to start paying rent and provide financial support to their families.

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Luke, an 18-year-old from Reading, is one of those. “I spent most of my summer working and I send 75 per cent of my pay cheque to my mum for bills,” he tells the Big Issue. “I hardly get to see my dad because he’s not taken time off work in over two years thanks to rent increases.

“I’ve also not been able to learn to cook for university because it costs too much to use the oven and hob.”

A report this week by insurer Royal London that found millions of adults in Britain have already taken on second or multiple jobs to bring in extra cash. And research shows children as young as 10 are acutely aware of the rising cost of living, with 47 per cent of those aged 10 to 25 viewing financial pressures as one of the top five challenges they’ll face in the next year.

Maleiki Haybe, a Green Party councillor in Sheffield, has had children as young as 14 asking for CV help. Image: Supplied

Maleiki Haybe, a Green Party councillor in Sheffield, has already witnessed children from his community looking for ways to help keep their families afloat.

“For the first time, I have had lads as young as 14 ask for my help in writing CVs and finding a job,” he says. “On the surface, this looks like they are showing great initiative, but the deeper you look, you realise it is not as wholesome as it seems.

“Living in what is labelled as a socially deprived area, young people are being forced to grow up fast and are experiencing the pressures of being a provider.”

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Depending on individual circumstance, some young people are more cushioned from the impacts of inflation than others. But for 20-year-old student living in London who is juggling a 36 hour weekly job that pays less than minimum wage alongside his studies, the cost of living crisis is making daily life miserable.

“It’s having a huge impact on my mental health,” he says. “A lot of my friends are from London and live with their parents, but I often can’t go out to see them because I’m spending all my money on bills and living costs. It makes me more introverted because I can’t afford to go out.

“I’ve had to cut back on monthly subscriptions, cancelling Amazon Prime, Netflix and Xbox Live, and I’ve reduced how often I get to treat myself when I get paid.”

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that almost half of those on low incomes are already going without one essential item or food, and a third are experiencing food insecurity. 

For many students, food insecurity is becoming a daily struggle. A survey by the National Union of Students in June found that one in 10 are using food banks because of the rising cost of essentials and food.

“Shops like Aldi and Lidl are no longer cheap,” the student adds. “Me and my girlfriend used to split a £30 weekly food shop, I used to come home with three or four bags full of food, but now it’s halved.”

Haybe is a board member of The Unity Project in Broomhall, a charity gym that promotes wellbeing and community development. 

During the pandemic, the gym transformed into a local food bank almost overnight, providing hundreds of meals for those in need. Haybe believes community projects such as his will be a lifeline for many families over the winter but fears for young people with the added pressures of providing financial support coupled with a lack of opportunity to socialise.

He adds: “There is also strong evidence that demonstrates that economic shocks correlate with increases in child maltreatment and domestic violence, especially in poorer households, so the cost of living crisis will have all sorts of negative and perhaps unanticipated repercussions for young people and their families.”

Adele Walton is an international development graduate and freelance journalist

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