The term ‘unprecedented’ has been used a lot over the past year. Since the UK entered a national lockdown last March, we have all had to adjust to fundamental changes in our living and working conditions, our finances, and our relationships with family and friends. A new report suggests that the pandemic may be taking its toll. Mental health problems – already affecting one in four people each year before the pandemic – are on therise.
For families living on a low income, however, there is nothing unprecedented about the daily struggle of trying to get by on limited funds or about the negative impact this all too often has on mental health. Life was already difficult before the pandemic and the pressures on incomes have been further compounded by increased heating, food and energy bills attached to staying at home, as well as costs associated with home-schooling and looking afterchildren.
Through Covid Realities, a major research programme funded by the Nuffield Foundation and working in partnership with Child Poverty Action Group, we have been working with parents and carers living on a low income to understand what life has been like during the pandemic and how the social security system is working for families. Ourreport, out today, explores parents and carers experiences of universal credit and how this has impacted on their mental health.
Parents and carers told us that they had experienced stress, anxiety and low mood while claiming universal credit. These experiences were linked with trying to get by on payments that were not sufficient to cover living costs and financial insecurity associated with the way in which universal credit operates currently – from the five-week wait to requirements to look for work during the pandemic.
Trying to cope with this precarity while managing the additional stresses and strains brought about by Covid-19 has impacted significantly on families, as Holly W, a lone mother of two from North East England, described as part of the Covid Realities research.
“I am currently being forced to look for work and to show evidence of looking ’online’ for work for over 20 hours a week. With no wifi and having to pay for data I am unsure of how that is physically possible,” she said. “I am also expected to home-school my six year old three days every week and my daughter two weeks in every month. I cannot see how a job will work. The pressure is immense and there is the threat of UC stopping payments.”