Paula* lives with her three children in a council flat in Perth, Scotland.
Before having her youngest child, Ben*, who recently turned one, Paula and her then-husband were not worried about money. Unfortunately, Paula had a bad pregnancy and a difficult birth when she almost died. Paula and her husband separated shortly after the birth, having been together for a number of years. This took her by surprise and changed her circumstances drastically: ‘I’m really feeling the brunt of it because how I’d planned it to be at the time is worlds away from the situation we are now'.
Following the separation, Paula tried to go back to work, but eventually felt she had no choice but to give up her job: ‘I was working and my friends were taking the kids, then they got fed up…When I looked into childcare, they wanted £1000 up front [for the nursery and after-school club]. So, I had the choice of pulling £1000 out of nowhere or giving up my job, which is a real kick in the teeth because it was an alright job. I was a customer service manager, so it’s not like it was an entry level job'.
Paula receives about £700 a month in universal credit and relies on £48 a week in child benefit in order to survive: ‘We’re now week to week living off my child benefit. As soon as I get that universal credit, there’s nothing left. It literally goes to the bank and comes straight out’.
Without the extra support for Ben, Paula struggles to afford the basics for her family and has turned to credit cards to keep afloat: ‘I didn’t have any credit cards this time last year. I’ve now got two. They’re maxed out... I’m in a good bit of debt now, it’s not possible to make it work at the end of the month’. She used credit to pay for daily items, like the £30 a week she spends on special milk and bread for her son, due to his allergies.
Her older children’s wellbeing has been affected as they can no longer have swimming lessons and have had to stop their football and basketball, which enabled them to keep fit and to socialise. The family’s finances have also affected their relationships with one another, which Paula feels very guilty about:
‘I can’t enjoy [days out] because I’m just waiting for the “Mum can we have…?” …and then it spoils the day. They’re annoyed that you can’t do that, and you’re annoyed at yourself that you can’t do that.’
‘The kids don’t understand and they get frustrated at it all. They get bored of doing the same things week in week out…It causes a lot of conflict with everyone. The middle one has even told me that he wished we’d never had Ben.’
Paula explains how this affects her own self-confidence, as well: ‘If I just had one nice outfit that I could go out in… They’re the things that nobody thinks of. Even a haircut would be lovely.’ She dreams of providing a bit of normality for her children, but feels trapped in her financial situation: ‘I don’t actually know how we get out of this mess’.
* All names have been changed.
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