In the final blog of this three-part series exploring people's experiences of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, Georgette Thomas, working with JRF’s campaigning partners, hears from Zoe, a mother of two from Doncaster.
Having enough to get by is “a constant worry” for 36-year-old Zoe, who is mum to two boys. Although she has taken part-time jobs, raising her sons alone has meant she’s needed income support.
“I’ve been on Universal Credit for a couple of years,” she says. “I’ve had part-time jobs whenever I could, as a bus attendant taking elderly people to day centres as well as children to special needs schools. I’ve also had temp jobs at Royal Mail but I’ve had to rely on income support on and off for years.
“We’ve just about got enough to get by but it’s a constant worry. I’ve no savings, nothing for emergencies.”
The £20 uplift has been a lifeline
Zoe says the Government’s £20 uplift has been vital since the first lockdown began in March 2020. She started receiving the £20 in May, and, having both her sons at home, found it helped to cover the cost of her increased food and heating bills.
“I can’t really make plans for the future; I live week-to-week really,” she says. “Without that extra £20 I will have to cut back even more. The extra money means I can put a few pounds away each week so that I can cover emergencies. Knowing I’ve got that means I can breathe out - it means I don’t have to worry all of the time.”
Limited options and opportunities
Zoe does everything she can to provide for her boys, but her circumstances, responsibilities and income mean her family’s options are restricted. She worries about her sons missing out on extracurricular activities that can widen their opportunities, help them develop new skills and relationships, and support their wellbeing.
“My youngest goes to a couple of clubs - swimming and dancing,” says Zoe. “I’ve managed to keep that going when those clubs have been able to run, but I’ve had to go without to do so. I don’t really spend money on myself anyway.
“I’ll fight to keep my son’s swimming and dancing going but I worry it will get to the point that will have to go and he really loves his activities.”
Zoe continues: “They’ve never had a proper holiday and I feel guilty about that. I usually manage to send them on school trips when it’s a voluntary contribution. I sometimes have to pay a bit less and I feel bad about that. The only way I can manage the occasional day trip is booking in advance and looking for offers. I get a lot of toys from charity shops.
“We are just getting by. Food shopping is for the essentials - the kids miss out on treats, like a packet of chocolate biscuits. I do try to explain but then I don’t want them to be worrying about money.”
Zoe lives with her mum, who has been a great help to her: “Having a child is definitely one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced and I’d never have managed without my mum. My eldest son’s dad has never been involved, and my youngest’s dad isn’t supportive, although he does contribute financially through the CSA (Child Support Agency).
“I live with my mum in her ex-council house but it desperately needs a lot of work. There are holes in the walls which need plastering but we can’t afford to do it.”