Opinion

I'm a single mum living in poverty. Worrying about how it affects my children keeps me up at night

Lauren, a single mum, shares her family's experience of living in poverty and calls for the government to act to protect children

child poverty/ child and mum

The warmer weather helps because it means cheaper days out for families. Image: Unsplash

A record high 4.3 million children were in poverty in the year to April 2023. As a lone parent, unable to work for five years due to a chronic illness, my children have been forced to be part of this statistic. 

As I walked through the park with my 13-year-old son, who is on school holidays this week (thank goodness for better weather which means free days out), I asked how poverty has affected him growing up.

He told me it’s no big deal. He just misses out on the latest games and trainers and expensive trampoline parties. No big deal. Those are things kids can do without.

But then he said: “It’s more about being treated differently by my classmates. They make fun of me sometimes.” My 17-year-old daughter agrees and tells me that shopping with her friends was awful. She felt so different. 

It’s hard to feel different as a child but, as a mum, my worries about how poverty affects my children are constant. The schools put enormous pressure on parents, it’s a never ending list which includes school trips, fundraising raffles and dress-up days such as world book day.

Approved uniform is essential and my son is on his third pair of shoes this year thanks to a growth spurt. All schoolwork is online, so that’s reliable internet and laptops needed. Many children are experiencing data poverty and fall behind at school as a result. 

My main cause of sleepless nights and grey hair has been the cost of living crisis. Worrying about cold weather snaps: how much heating I dare put on for the kids in the evening. During the day, I can’t move for thick jumpers or huddling under my blankets on the sofa.



My once fairly-enjoyable trips to the supermarket have now become a stressful worrying experience where I pick up items and put them down several times asking myself if I really need it – or if I can really afford it. There are no treats and no extras in my basket, just the bare minimum I can get away with and yet still the bill is more than I can afford.

Recently I became aware of a food pantry that has been a godsend. I can get some discounted food and it’s a place of no judgement. Without organisations such as food banks and charities so many parents would not be able to feed their children. Cases of ‘Victorian diseases’ such as scurvy and malnutrition are on the rise, sad news for a modern UK in 2024. 

My apologies if I’ve painted a very dark picture of what it’s like to grow up in poverty. These are the harsh realities. However children can still grow up well with values and morals and with every scrap of love that I can give them. That part is for free and it’s constant. 

However, what we need is some long term, sustainable solutions from the government. 

Perhaps a cap on how much landlords can raise rent? Or more affordable housing? Or more help for families to be able to get on the property ladder rather than pay extortionate rents? And what about being able to get help or on a waiting list before you  are officially made homeless? 

How about an end to school uniforms? Or at least assistance to buy them? At the moment this is discretionary to the school. 

There should be regulation and investigation into enormous profits made by energy companies. How have they made billions in profit in this energy crisis? There should be more assistance with heating bills, such as a reduced bill if you have medical conditions or have young children and are in poverty. 

These suggestions are just some steps the government can and must take to ensure that no children grow up in poverty.

Lauren takes part in the Changing Realities project, working with over 100 parents and carers across the UK and the University of York to document life on a low-income and push for change.

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