The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives, in fundamental and often difficult ways. But, for families already in poverty before the pandemic began, and for those pushed into poverty by the pandemic, there were often very particular pressures and struggles. The demands of lockdown, home schooling and food shortages, for example, created additional challenges for families struggling to get by. This book charts an extraordinary year in a pandemic for families living on a low-income. It shares diary entries from over 100 parents and carers who documented their experiences - their COVID Realities - as part of efforts to create a better, different future for all of us. The book sets out what life was like for families between March 2020 and March 2021, sharing sometimes devastating accounts of everyday struggle and the harm this does. And - vitally - it sets out how and why things can and must be different. The book concludes with a manifesto for change - change that is needed for all of us.
This chapter explores how parents navigated the difficult return to school in September 2020, following a long period of home learning. It sets out the punitive costs of school (especially uniform costs). It shows how the return of schooling brought a modicum of adult freedom - but at the cost of children re-entering a major site of COVID risk and infection. As the autumn term drew on, this chapter describes how parents found their way through unclear regulations and unpredictable ‘burst bubbles,’ accompanied by swift returns to home schooling (often at significant personal and financial cost). As children returned to school, old inequalities also reappeared: inequalities in educational opportunities had been exacerbated over the homeschooled months, with children with additional needs disproportionately affected. Parents worried for the future, too - concerned that missed schooling could leave their children as a ‘lost generation.’
This chapter charts the rapid and sudden transformation of families’ everyday lives in March 2020. Life was changed from “0 to 100” as the government shut down businesses and schools, and restricted people from leaving their homes. It sets out the diverse backgrounds of families on a low-income whose experiences make up this book, with some already on a low-income before the pandemic began, and others pushed into poverty because of the economic fallout from lockdown. This chapter describes how the everyday challenges of getting by on a low income were made much harder by the pandemic. It documents how ongoing security around jobs, budgeting, and accessing support had to be navigated, all against a backdrop of the fear of catching COVID-19.
On Wednesday 3rd March, 2021, Rishi Sunak delivered one of the most anticipated Budgets in living memory. Many participants in COVID Realities waited anxiously to see what Sunak would announce. Whether affected by the £20 increase to Universal Credit, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, or ‘furlough’), or the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), any changes would have profound and immediate consequences for their lives. Would the measures continue? Or were people going to see their incomes suddenly plummet? This chapter explores the policy and social security response to the pandemic in more detail, highlighting gaps and differences in the support provided to different groups. It situates the policy response in the broader context of longer term developments in social security policy, such as the benefit cap, conditionality, and universal credit. Finally, it considers the case for a return to universalist principles in the provision of social security
This chapter explores families’ experiences of Christmas 2020. Family accounts highlight the perennial difficulties of Christmas - and of other big occasions - when budgets already have nothing to spare. However, Christmas 2020 arrived at the end of a run of additional costs triggered by lockdown, and so any and all savings (and most conventional means of managing or spreading the cost) were either gone, or no longer viable. For families with younger children, the pressure was more acute - could Santa come? How would he navigate lockdown? How could he afford Christmas 2020 at all? For families with older children (and older relatives) the challenges centred on togetherness - as new ‘tier 4’ conditions were introduced in early December preventing any contact between households, how could they get through Christmas in isolation and without seeing any of their loved ones? Some parents somehome found their way to a joyful, festive day. Other families suffered - finding pain in the preparation, and misery in the big day.
In this concluding chapter, we set out an agenda for change. This is focused around exploring how a post-pandemic future might be better than what came before. There is a focus on the changes that are needed, and the need to foreground care, and to shift towards more universalist provision. The book shares some practical things those who have read it can do to help make change, change that is needed for all of our sakes.
In this chapter, we set out how Britain entered the pandemic in poor health - with a social security system ill-suited for helping families navigate the global crisis. We also chart the emergence of the Covid Realities project, on which this book is based. We explain how and why it felt important to explore poverty in the pandemic, and introduce the people behind this book.
This chapter explores how experiences of the pandemic were shaped by inequalities and differences in peoples’ circumstances. With the arrival of summer and the easing of restrictions, many people looked forward to holidays and day trips. But for COVID Realities participants the easing of restrictions and return of something like normal life presented new challenges. This chapter explores how, despite the hardships it imposed, lockdown sometimes offered people limited relief from some spending pressures, but also the social embarrassments of poverty. It explores how the experience of people living on a low income was often out of step with the national narrative, as portrayed on the television and in print media. The chapter documents how experiences of the pandemic were shaped by ethnicity and citizenship status, by work, and by where someone lived.
This chapter explores the mental health impacts of the pandemic on families living on low incomes. It discusses how the relationship between poverty and mental ill health was already ingrained in our society before the pandemic and how COVID-19 has made a difficult situation even worse. This chapter is framed by the third national UK lockdown when COVID Realities families faced cold, winter nights and ongoing financial uncertainty. It describes how the acute fears and anxieties of the beginning of the pandemic gave way to chronic stresses and strains over time. The chapter ends by focusing on how social connections have helped to improve our wellbeing over the past year, and by setting out the changes needed to improve mental health - individually and nationally - as we move out of the pandemic.
Money was already tight for UK families living on a low income before the COVID-19 pandemic, but national lockdowns made life much harder.
Telling the stories of these families, this book exposes the ways that pre-existing inequalities, insecurities and hardships were amplified during the pandemic for families who were already in poverty before COVID-19, as well as those pushed into poverty by the economic fallout it created.
Drawing on the Covid Realities research programme, and developed in partnership with parents and carers, it explores experiences of home-schooling, social security receipt and government, community and charitable support. This book sets out all that is wrong with the status quo, while also offering a powerful agenda for change.
Also see ‘COVID-19 Collaborations: Researching Poverty and Low-Income Family Life during the Pandemic’ (Open Access) to find out more about the challenges of carrying out research during COVID-19.
13 Sep 2022
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