I’m on Universal Credit and a working mum of two – I can't afford food or activities for my daughter

HARD-WORKING mum Leanne, 38, wants to buy her nine-year-old daughter an ice cream, just like countless other parents across the country might do.

But she has no cash left to buy the simple treat, even after working 37 hours a week and claiming Universal Credit to top-up her low income.

In total she gets £2,200 a month from her salary and benefit payments – but after all her bills, rent and outgoings she is left with nothing.

The mum of two is just one of millions of households struggling with rocketing costs and having to make tough choices, like skipping meals 

“I don’t have any money left at the end of the month, I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she told The Sun.

“I’m falling behind on some bills so I can pay priority bills. My income just does not cover the outgoings. I have to use credit cards, and now I’m paying that off too, but I can’t afford to really, so it’s just a vicious circle.”

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Leanne, who lives in the South West of England can no longer afford for her daughter to have friends over after school.

And she has had to cut back her little girl’s after school activities because of the extra expense. 

She's already stopped taking her daughter to the play area next door and fears she may have to halt all her activities that cost extra.

“I’ve had to reduce her swimming and gymnastics to once a week. And even paying that is a struggle,” she says.

“There’s a soft play area next to the pool and every time she asks whether she can go in. But I simply can’t afford it.”

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“Before she could have a friend over every day if she wanted. But now I have to weigh up how much that’s going to cost me by having an extra mouth to feed.”

It’s not just the extra cost of having guests either – feeding herself and her kids is a struggle.

Leanne is no longer able to afford fresh food and worries about her kids' health.

“We’re buying what I call crap food that you bung in the oven," she says.

"It’s probably not even chicken. It’s cheaper than buying fresh chicken which used to be three or four quid, now it’s like six or seven.”

“I don’t buy fruit for the kids anymore. I will try when I can, but it's nowhere near what I used to. It’s like a treat once a month if I can get a punnet of strawberries.” 

Leanne says she would go to a food bank, but can’t because it’s only open while she’s at work. 

Extra help

Like many others, she is still waiting for her £150 council tax rebate, one of the measures announced by the government to help with the cost of living.

She’s also had help from Action for Children with cash for food from its crisis fund, which was first set up as a response to the pandemic.

It's now been made permanent since the cost of living crisis hit.

More than half of its grants have gone to families who are on Universal Credit in the last six months, and the charity has warned that the benefit is failing to meet basic living costs.

And when it comes to what the money is used for, over half of the help went towards giving families like Leanne’s good quality and nutritious food.

But it’s not the only rising cost she has to cope with and she expects her finances to get even worse come winter.

Leanne’s electricity bill has already shot up from £180 to £280 a month – adding an extra £1,200 a year to her outgoings.

“They say it’s going to go up another £1,000 over winter. Where are we meant to find that extra £2,000?” says Leanne.

“Council tax has gone up, my food bill has gone up. We don’t get an increase in wages or Universal Credit to reflect these increases.

“I just don’t know how they expect people to survive. It’s not just me, we’re all in the same boat.”

“There’s no way for me to work more to get myself out of this situation, like the government says I could."

Millions of people can now keep more of what they earn when working and getting Universal Credit after a change to rules last year.

The government slashed the Universal Credit taper rate that reduces the benefit from 63p in every £1 to 55p.

But this has had a limited effect on Leanne’s finances as rising costs have wiped out any gains from the measures.

“I didn’t even know it had happened. That’s how much of an impact it has had. It was just a drop in the ocean,” said Leanne, who is also struggling with anxiety and depression over her financial situation.

“With my eldest off to university in September, my money will reduce again as I won’t get his child benefit, or the disabled child element of Universal Credit.

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“I’m really worried about the impact of that on us as a family as I want to help him financially, but I simply won’t be able to. 

“I don’t think I’ll even manage priority bills let alone luxuries like food. Who’d have thought eating would become a luxury?”

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