Andrew and his wife live in a rented home in north-east England with their four children. His family is experiencing severe financial difficulties, which are exacerbated by the two-child limit applied to their youngest daughter.
Until about three years ago, Andrew and his wife were both in work and coping financially: ‘We were getting by relatively okay with no, like, worries’. Unfortunately, a family emergency meant that they had to go overseas for several months to look after his wife’s parents. Their third child – now aged two – was born shortly after they got back, and Andrew and his wife have struggled to find work ever since: ‘It’s just been crazy trying to get back into work. We’ve got no paid work around here.’
Andrew’s wife then became pregnant again even though she was on the pill, but being Catholic, ‘there was no question of getting rid of it’. Their youngest daughter, who is nearly one, is subject to the two-child limit.
Throughout this period, the family received the same amount of tax credits, whilst their needs have increased with another child to look after and the other children growing and eating more. They have struggled to stay afloat with mounting debts, and Andrew has had to make some very difficult decisions: ‘I’ve been like, not paying the rent, or not paying my council tax, or not paying the gas and electricity, so we’ve got food - it’s a struggle.’
Even though his wife recently started a new job, Andrew says they are probably only about £40 a week better than before, once petrol costs and the withdrawal of means-tested benefits are factored in. Andrew has worked for 19 years and intends to go back to work, but says it would be ‘physically impossible’ for both of them to be working at the moment: ‘I, physically, can’t get a job, otherwise we’d just be rushing around all over the place, picking the kids up from school, putting that one into childcare, there’s just nothing spare...’
Andrew has tried phoning the debt collectors to explain their financial situation, but they have simply threatened to obtain a county court judgement against him if he does not pay. He deals with this by trying not to get worked up about it, as there is very little he can do: ‘Obviously you get wound up. I try not to, but sometimes I’m a bit snappy, but most of the time I just crumple letters up and forget all about it, because there’s naught else I can do.’
Andrew and his wife have just about managed to provide clothing for their children, by going to charity shops and using hand-me-downs. He has bought nappies and milk on credit cards in the past, when they were waiting for the next benefit payment. But these are now maxed out, so Andrew is unsure how they will cope in the coming months. Without enough to cover the basic essentials, there is no money for the children to take part in extra-curricular activities: ‘everything else which is good for becoming a good-rounded adult’.
If the two-child limit were not in place, Andrew and his family would not live such a knife-edge existence: ‘It would give us that cushion, because we’ve literally no savings whatsoever, so if something goes wrong like an MOT on our car, we couldn’t afford it. We’ll just not have a car anymore.’ The family car, which they bought for £400, is needed for his wife to get to work. Andrew has no idea where the money will come from when it needs maintenance.
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