February 3, 2023

Sophia*, 28, from Wallsend, North Tyneside, is a mother of two and is on universal credit. She kept a diary the impact of the crisis on the cost of living On she and her children.

I have about £10 left until tomorrow when I get paid so I’m pretty proud of myself. All told, it’s £6.50 on my card and five in my wallet. So I now go to the shops and buy some cheap food that we need, which is unsweetened almond milk, whole milk and fish.

Originally, I was too scared to move on to a universal income support loan and applied for it as a last resort. I was afraid that we would have almost nothing left, but it turned out that we were slightly better off than when we had welfare benefits.

You must borrow universal credit for your first six weeks or you will get nothing. So they gave me a six week loan – putting me into debt for my own benefit about £1,000 which they made me pay back at £40 a month.

……

I’m paid! That’s scary but a relief. First, on this special day, I grab my debit card, rental bill, paper and pen. I take off the rent, then I divide it by four and that gives us what amount we live on per week.

We’re actually OK this month; we got a little extra because they must have reduced one of my debts a little bit, making us maybe £10-£20 better off a week.

Then the final step is to write in my calendar on Tuesday for the next three weeks to deposit myself into our bank the weekly amount we should have.

I signed up with Bread and Butter Thing, a community food organization. We are usually accepted about once every two weeks because it is oversubscribed. It’s the first to text back that gets a spot.

……

When I was a teenager, I was sofa surfing with men I thought were my role models. It took years of professional help to finally improve myself. I have given up drugs and alcohol. At the time, embarrassingly, I was using my body for free or for resources, which I thought was normal.

I’ve never been so proud to look back and see where I am today.

I’ve lived on mattresses on floorboards, on sofas, in living rooms – out of “single bags”, where all your belongings are in just one bag.

……

Sometimes I have flashbacks of my pregnancy with my daughter. I remember the house I lived in. There were always people there, it reeked of legal highs everywhere, which made me feel sick, the bile burning in my throat.

The place had no carpets – there would be heaps of rubbish everywhere and they had a rat infestation. If there was no heating, we wore rompers or dressing gowns.

At that point, all my money would go to people’s £10 bag of drugs or their necessities. So that’s why universal credit should be spilled between partners in these situations. The job center could and should ask: Are you in trouble?

……

My garden has been completely overgrown since the last storm. It’s too big for me to handle. Something that is a battle for the benefits replaces big things like trampolines. It has let me down on all of this today.

……

I got on the list to pick up cheap food (£7.50 for a family and three bags of food) from the Bread and Butter Thing.

It’s at 1:30 PM when I pick it up, which makes me think I can only really get to it because I’m not at work.

……

Walked the kids to school this morning, Rosie* had her scooter, Zack* had his bike. That’s another thing that’s very difficult. It’s almost impossible to afford bicycles and scooters on benefits, so Grandma bought them for the kids. I bought the helmets.

At the school, they give out free uniforms by hanging them up, which is great. The rest of the uniform I get from clothing schemes, Poundland and Asda.

I would say about 10% of their clothes I bought and the rest are given by others.

……

Today I feel so overwhelmed. My friend came by from school with her kids, and I didn’t expect it.

Looking in my cupboards, I realized that I didn’t have enough food for her three children either – I was mortified. I shared a pizza between all the kids and they only got two slices each.

……

With my work coach at the employment office, my appointment says to look for work daily and look for work for 30 hours a week. This is impossible so I have been advised to find flexible work around the kids. How could I complete the 30 hours required of me, as school starts at 9am and there is no real after school care available?

I pass my days, until I start some part-time work, with my NHS weight management program, which I’ve been on for a year – learning about food and exercise. I am also taking a part-time course online on children’s mental health.

We make cheap food by shopping at Aldi or discounted stuff from other stores. I also decorated my bathroom walls with Poundland mosaic decals. I’m really proud of how it looks.

*Names have been changed.

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