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  • Author or Editor: Katie Pybus x
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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.

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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.

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The Covid Realities project has been working alongside parents and carers since June 2020 to understand the experiences of and challenges faced by families living on a low income during the pandemic. In this chapter, we will explore how through diary entries, discussion groups, and engaging with online video questions, parents and carers have shared experiences and discussed recommendations for policy change. In order to truly build back better, we emphasise how those in power need to listen to and engage with the expertise that comes from – and can only come from – lived experience. Who is included and who is excluded from policy discussions happening now will have a lasting impact on the world that emerges from the pandemic.

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This article reports on a participatory, mixed-methods study, of the causes and lived experiences of food insecurity in the context of an unequal city in England. Among families with young children, we find that income and housing tenure are strongly associated with food insecurity and food bank use, and these impacts extend to higher socioeconomic status groups. Higher costs of food, housing and transport associated with life in an unequal context, meant that food formed part of a series of competing pressures on household budgets. We urge future food insecurity research to focus further on these broader socioeconomic drivers of poverty.

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This article reports on the Child Poverty Action Group Early Warning System (EWS), a database of case studies representing social security issues reported directly by frontline benefits advice workers and benefit claimants. It outlines what data from the EWS can tell us about how the social security system is functioning and how it has responded during the pandemic. It further details how insights from the EWS can be used by researchers and policymakers seeking to understand the role of social security in supporting families living on a low income and in advocating for short- and longer-term policy change.

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Life on a Low Income during COVID-19

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.

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