How people’s experiences of poverty can help to unlock solutions

Hazel Ratcliffe is a single mum from Fife. She’s been on her own with her two sons – aged 18 and 16 – for around 14 years. In this blog, Hazel talks about how it feels to get locked in poverty, what could help people to get out, and the work she’s doing to raise awareness of UK poverty.

In the last 14 years I have been in several different situations, from working full time on a good wage with no benefits to relying solely on benefits to live. In this time, I have gone from being able to walk around Asda putting anything in my basket without thinking to sticking to a strict shopping list in Aldi as I have very little money to provide us with food for the week. I have been in the position where I have had to go without food to provide money for fuel to heat my kids’ home for the week and I have also had to turn to foodbanks for help as I’ve had no money left.

The stress, anxiety and guilt this caused was life changing for me. I was once strong, independent and confident but this took all my strength to battle through week to week and left me with no confidence or self-esteem. I felt a failure as a mother and as a person.

My main source of income when I was in work was from jobs in the care sector – mostly zero-hour contracts and minimum wage. The trouble with this is no reliability, no idea of the number of hours you will work from week to week and in turn no idea what wage you will get at the end of the month. The stress of this and the building debt caused acute stress and anxiety to the point I had to quit.

“Real suffering that goes on behind closed doors”

I became involved in working with JRF as I am extremely passionate about raising awareness of poverty in the UK and the real suffering that goes on behind closed doors for far too many families.

The project I’m working on with JRF and Involve is allowing people who have experience of in-work poverty especially to be included in the shaping of the project right from the start. From discussing the issues faced by people in poverty we were able to think of the themes of the project and give our thoughts and ideas on how the project should look. Those experiencing poverty had a say in the project, what would work and what wouldn’t from their perspective. This was different to previous JRF projects and was an exciting, innovative way of working, which we hope will bring fresh new results from the research and new ideas for recommendations for changes to solve poverty in the UK.

All the families I have spoken to over the years want to work and to be earning their own money but there are too many hurdles in their way – lack of jobs for example; lack of accessible, affordable childcare; lack of transport. For some it’s a lack of confidence and no idea where to start.

Unlocking families from poverty

I do not feel there is one quick fix for this. I feel a lot of different things need to come together to allow families to get out of the poverty trap and live a decent quality of life:

  • availability of jobs with a flexible attitude to hours and shifts to allow for parents of young children
  • a reasonable rate of pay – a living wage with a top-up from the Government if need be
  • the rate of benefits would need to increase yearly to match the rate of inflation and the minimum families are required to live on needs to be realistic and allow for emergencies and savings
  • adequate childcare needs to be available, with incentives available to anyone willing to offer childcare facilities outside with the normal 9–5 Monday – Friday timetable, which is not realistic for families
  • rent, council tax, transport and childcare need to be capped at a reasonable price to prevent agencies from charging ridiculous rates to families and taking advantage of vulnerable people.

I feel if everyone works in sync with everyone it will all work for the better, more families working and being able to spend money on their families for clothes, food, leisure activities etc. This would have such a positive impact on all areas of family life, society and the economy as a whole.