Charlene, 36 is one of the thousands of people struggling to keep up with rising bills.
Charlene is a single mum who relies on Universal Credit but claims “it doesn’t go far enough”.
Charlene is medically unable to work due to mental health issues and a chronic lung condition. She has a six-year-old daughter but feels “awful” as she can’t provide basic things for her.
New Action for Children analysis shows households with children are three times more likely to be behind on household bills or debt repayments, and twice as likely to be behind on rent or mortgage payments.
They are calling on the Government to protect low-income families by increasing social security levels in line with inflation at the Autumn Statement and to reform future Cost of Living Payments to take family size into account.
Charlene said: “I’ve cut back on absolutely everything, but I’ve still had times when I’ve looked in the cupboards and they’re empty. I skip meals several times a week and often just eat cereal for a main meal as that’s all I have left from the food parcel.
“I know she [her daughter] gets a hot lunch at school every day, so I don’t feel so bad not having hot food in the evening at home. But making her a hot meal every day during the school holidays is a big worry.
“Keeping up with my gas bill has also become a huge problem. I have a chronic lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and my daughter has asthma, so I have to keep the house warm in the winter.
“It makes me feel awful that I can’t provide basic things for her. It’s just degrading as a parent. When you’re hungry and worrying about feeding your child, you can’t focus on anything else.”
The charity’s analysis of data from the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust’s survey shows that in May this year 1.5million homes were classed as being in ‘serious financial difficulty’ – the most severe form of financial insecurity.
The charity wants to see the family incomes boosted further through an increase to the child element of Universal Credit and a scrapping of the Benefit Cap, both of which would lift more than 300,000 children out of poverty.
Paul Carberry, chief executive at Action for Children explained that pressure is being felt most by those on low-incomes, and single parents in particular as there are more mouths to feed, clothes to wash, rooms to heat and typically fewer savings.
The cost-of-living crisis is far from over as prices across the economy are still rising with food inflation remaining particularly high at almost 14 percent. The Bank of England does not expect to reach its two percent inflation target until early 2025, and energy prices remain volatile and stubbornly high as winter draws near.
He said: “Every day, our frontline workers are applying to our Crisis Fund for emergency grants to support low-income families in their care with basics like food, clothing and utility costs.
“The Chancellor must act at the Autumn Statement to protect families with children from these intense and ongoing pressures on household finances. At the very least, we must see benefits rise with inflation and Cost of Living Payments reformed to take family size into account.”
Charlene added: “Action for Children has helped me with things like food parcels, loans to pay for school uniforms and advice on budgeting and bills.
“I don’t know what I’d have done without the staff at the children’s centre. They’re always there to talk to, and I never feel judged.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Our welfare system provides a strong financial safety net for those who need extra support, and there are nearly two million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010.
“But we know some families are struggling, which is why we have raised benefits by over 10% this year, are focused on halving inflation, have provided record financial support worth around £3,300 per household, and have announced another increase to the National Living Wage.
“To help people out of poverty through work, we are investing £3.5 billion to help thousands into jobs and are removing barriers for parents with the biggest ever expansion of free childcare – providing 30 free hours of childcare for working parents and support for children from nine months old to when they start school. This will save eligible parents up to an average of £6,500 per year.”