We’re at the half way point of the UK summer holidays, a time that is always testing to parents’ patience and bank balances. But when it comes to keeping children happy and occupied amid the escalating cost of living crisis, many families are feeling the pinch like never before this year.
Sally Worrall, 31, has seen a drastic change in her circumstances.
“I can’t get through the month now without borrowing money,” says the Hampshire-based mum of four.
As a single parent to Chester 11, Rory, eight and twins Jenson and Molly, six, the self-employed painter and decorator says that she has to borrow money from her mother each month just to get by.
“I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle, I don’t smoke, drink, or have Sky. I have the cheapest mobile package and the most basic broadband service. But I really struggle,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Food is especially a big thing. It’s gone up by about £50 a week for me and the children. It’s really difficult. I try not to think about it because the reality is after a shop, I’ve only got about £20 a week to live on,” says Worrall.
Even before schools broke up for the summer this year, the national poverty charity, Turn2US, warned that the financial squeeze was having a stark impact on many families in the UK.
The charity surveyed 2,730 of its service users in June and found that soaring food costs were pushing many into debt as they struggled to put food on the table. Almost half of the charity’s users reported they were left with nothing to live on each week after weekly food costs.
The survey also found that that over half of respondents planned to use the first £326 instalment of the government’s cost-of-living rescue package to help pay a debt for utility bill arrears – and with food and fuel prices only set to rise this autumn and winter, there is concern for how many will be plunged into poverty.
Michael Clarke, head of information programmes at Turn2us, said: “Every day we see more people struggling to afford life’s absolute basics as the cost-of-living continues to push millions of people onto the edge of a financial crisis.”
He added: “We are hearing from parents who are skipping meals to try and keep their children fed, or who are making impossible choices between paying rocketing energy bills or rent. This isn’t right.
“Many people using our services come to us when they are at their most desperate and we fear the worst is yet to come over the coming months.”
These statistics don’t surprise mum of two Kelly Williams, who lives in east London with her husband Marcel and six-year old son Quincy.
“It’s the world in which we now live in,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Everything has gone up and it’s simply not sustainable. I don’t understand how there is such a high rate of inflation and the salaries have not risen to coincide with that.”
Williams, who works as an accountant, added: “It’s creating a huge gap in the cost of living and people have got to find ways to survive.”
“We fear the worst is yet to come over the coming months.”
– Michael Clarke, Turn2Us charity
Certainly, it’s affecting middle-income families, too. “Since the crisis my husband and I are much more conscious of what we do now in terms of managing our money and one of the biggest changes we found was that we don’t go out as often as we used to,” says Williams.
The family are trying to change spending habits with as little impact on their son as possible. “We are both aware of how important it is to our wellbeing that we go out as a family and spend quality time together,” she says.
Williams is focused on giving Quincy a good summer holiday while staying within budget – even if that means a major juggle with work.
“I’m taking advantage of my working from home days. By being at home, I will not have to pay out any extra money to summer camps,” says Williams, who is making the most of free activities and vouchers provided by her local council.
“Picnics and play dates!” she says, citing her summer mantra. “This will just allow me to let my money stretch further.”
When it comes to the food shop, Williams freely admits she’s no longer loyal to a particular supermarket and that her main quest is to get value for money.
“I’m loyal to brands, but not to supermarkets,” she tells HuffPost UK, adding that one of her biggest hacks is getting her petrol at supermarkets.
“When filling up, I tend to use supermarket petrol stations that offer loyalty rewards. Here you can transfer the reward points into vouchers for food. I’ve made huge savings by doing this,” she says.
Worrall, meanwhile, has started doing all her shopping at budget stores.
“I started shopping at B&M because it is so much cheaper than the larger supermarkets,” she says. “I’ve also had to shop at the Local Pantry.”
The Local Pantry, which operates in 70 neighbourhoods around the UK, sells on reduced items that supermarkets would normally throw in the bin. Shoppers using a branch pay £5 a trip, and receive £20 worth of food and groceries.
“Being in a single income household makes a hell of a difference to what we do when it comes to the summer holidays.”
“They have a coloured sticker policy,” explains Williams. “You get five red item stickers, which are meat and cheese and frozen fish. Then you get ten blue items, which is your pasta and tins of beans, etc, and toiletries. Then you get three items that are fruit, vegetables and bread.
“It’s a really good thing, but for a first world country nobody should be in this situation.”
Single parent Catherine Gilmore, who is mum to Arthur, six, says she’s been obsessing about how to stay within budget and keep her son occupied for the length of the summer holidays – and the worry starts earlier each year.
“Being in a single income household makes a hell of a difference to what we do when it comes to the summer holidays,” says the publishing assistant from Leyton, east London.
“Because of the financial squeeze, what I have had to do to ensure that Arthur gets to enjoy the summer is to save all year round, because, come July, financially it hits you hard.”
Meanwhile, hybrid worker Catherine, who preferred not to give her surname, says that in order to save money she is splitting the summer between her home in London and Derbyshire, where her mother lives.
“I get six weeks of holiday and I need to find childcare for four weeks of that time. So to keep costs down. I spend three weeks in London and then it’s up to Derbyshire for two weeks.”
Even factoring in travel costs, this hack makes life a lot easier, she says. “It’s cheaper up there, I pay between £35-£55 per week [on summer clubs] in London and in Derbyshire it’s between £20-£25 per week.”
One of the biggest problems Catherine found when looking for clubs in London was how quickly spaces got filled. In applying for cheaper camps and council-run activities, she said her son was often overlooked in favour of families in receipt of Universal Credit.
“It’s definitely is not a bad thing that families on benefits get priority, but there should be more available for middle-income families who are struggling to keep their families occupied during the summer,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Sally Worrall says she has taken advantage of similar provision in Hampshire to keep costs down and her kids occupied and happy throughout the holidays.
Her children’s school offers means-tested pupils the chance to attend a free summer camp, which runs during school hours. Each pupil enrolled on the camp is also given a free lunch and snacks throughout the day.
“I’ll only be using it three times a week to help me with food more than anything,” she says. “It also means I can work and I won’t have to worry about paying for childcare costs.”
Worrall has also been in touch with Gingerbread, a nationwide charity that offers support and help to single parent families. She says their team has been extremely helpful to families like hers, who are also struggling in the crisis.
“They have been great at bringing people together,” she says. “It has been nice to connect with families who are in similar situations. They have really great groups that you can lock in with.”
And despite all the challenges facing her family of five, she’s intent on giving her children a great summer. “I’m lucky because I live near the sea and near woodland. The days that I am not working we will spend them either on the beach or in the woods exploring and enjoying natural resources,” she says.
“We’ve just moved into a house from a flat so we will be spending a lot of time outside and taking advantage of the outdoor space. The garden is definitely a huge plus!”
Gingerbread runs a dedicated support service for single parents families – visit its website or call 0808 802 0925.
For further information on support and resources, visit the Turn2us website.