Samantha* works part-time in a café/restaurant and lives alone with her three children in Belfast, Northern Ireland following her divorce. Samantha became pregnant with her youngest child, whilst on contraception: ‘I would never have an abortion, but even if I was to look for one, I couldn’t afford to fly to England to pay for it.’ Samantha is now heavily reliant on the disability benefits she receives for her youngest child, as well as the support of family and friends.
Before her marriage broke down, Samantha describes herself as: ‘quite financially decent’. Even after a difficult period in which she lost her job, got divorced and had to go onto income support for eight months, Samantha ensured that her rent and car payments were always made. Samantha got back into work and was getting back on her feet, before she unexpectedly became pregnant.
Before the birth, Samantha describes how she began to rely on the support of friends and family: ‘When I was on maternity leave things were fine but it was trying to buy everything on top of that, car seats, prams… I had a lot of financial help from my friends and family.’ Just three months after the birth of her youngest child, the financial pressures of looking after her baby daughter without the additional support, became too great: ‘I did breastfeed, but after 8 weeks going through two cartons a week, that’s £22 a week on that alone, and then nappies on top of that and baby wipes on top of that and I was only receiving £13 a week for her in child benefit…’.
Samantha describes how desperate her situation became: ‘I had to let my credit card payments go, it got to the point where I was just burying my head in the sand… I just basically had to ring up the people that I owed money to and said, ‘Look I’m sorry I shouldn’t have done this, but something had to give’.
Samantha is now managing her debts, but admits that the disability benefits and carer’s allowance she receives for her youngest daughter are a lifeline. Despite this, Samantha continues to be reliant on family: ‘There was one point I had to ring my dad and say “can you come up to my house and lend me £5 so I can buy electric?”…Sometimes, I would ring my dad and say “Any chance you can have me and the kids down for dinner tomorrow night? I’m skint and I can’t afford to make dinner”.’
Samantha feels embarrassed that her two daughters, aged 7 and 10, are ‘missing out’, as she is unable to afford school trips and other activities. She also says her own mental health is suffering as a result of her financial struggles, which leaves her socially isolated: ‘I’ve been out one night in the last 8 months and the only reason I was able to go was because I got tipped quite a lot that day… I see friends of mine all over Facebook and they’re like having a drink here and there and I can’t even afford to have a cheap bottle of wine in the house.’
Samantha’s worries are heightened by the impending rollout of universal credit in Northern Ireland which she fears will leave her £42 a week worse-off. Samantha is trying to save a little so that she isn’t left without any money when she is on the ‘waiting list’ for universal credit (referring to the initial five week wait for payment). But this is very difficult when she is struggling to make ends meet. ‘It’s those unexpected things that can knock you off course really…Just the one bill’.
* All names have been changed.
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