Plymouth reveals the truth behind closed doors over family poverty: Poverty in the pandemic

The person who is quoted various times in this article wanted to be left anonymous; the name used instead for him is ‘Charlie’

With some areas of England already struggling to support their families, coronavirus has turned the lives of many people upside down. Jobs have been lost, people have been put on furlough and those who are left into work are challenged with the job of caring for their children while they are out of school, bouncing both work and home life at the same time. Though the government doesn’t always admit to the sad truth, their actions have left those with already low incomes and financial struggles in an overwhelmingly unbearable situation. It is proven that even before the pandemic low-income families were rapidly increasing, with the UK experiencing years of weak financial growth beforehand.

Sources state that one in five people were living in poverty in 2019/2020 and based on a small documentary from channel 4 news statistics show that for those in financial situations already, the covid pandemic has created a long-lasting effect. It is proven that poverty is rising fastest in families with children under the age of 5, with figures presenting itself with: 70% say children will go without essentials, 64% say children will go hungry and 81% say children are at a greater risk of neglect. These stats show just how hard it is to maintain and support each other and themselves during this pandemic.

For Plymouth specifically, it was reported from the Plymouth city council website that 18.6% of Plymouth children are living in poverty which is equivalent to 9,900 children. Channel 4 from ‘The Working Poor: Britain’s families living on the breadline’ declared that the number of people in poverty has risen significantly where 57% of people in poverty are living in households where at least one person is working’

When interviewing a young man who lives in Plymouth with his family, Charlie aged 20, I asked him what his current financial situation was; he replied with “I helped out some family members that were struggling with illnesses and so they got put out of work and consequently put me in a lot more debt, and due to covid my credit limit has decreased which has put more financial stress on me.” Charlie is just one out of the many citizens in which the measures and restrictions to prevent further spread of the coronavirus have resulted in and consequently ruined both financial stability in households and economic problems for the country.

Not only has this pandemic developed harsh financial problems for the majority but also it subsequently ends up in family relationships suffering along with it. Financial hardships can cause long-lasting distress over many relationships. Charlie again gives an insight into his own life when I asked him how his situation affected his family as a whole. He goes on to say, “It caused a lot more arguments and tension in the house. We couldn’t do many fun things or days out because all that was in our minds is that we had to put money back for this specific thing, or can’t afford that other thing, eventually we ended up becoming so stressed out that every conversation ended in an argument over money.” 

The main and most harmful result of this pandemic forcing families to struggle with everyday life tasks is the effect it has on mental health. Research provided an analysis with the concept of debt and depression going hand in hand together. With the global pandemic going on and job losses at bay, many people are struggling to make ends meet, finding it hard to focus at work, or spending time with their loved ones when all they can think about is keeping up with their bills. In a small survey that was created on a Plymouth Facebook page statistics showed that 56% of the people were worried about how they were going to keep a roof over their family’s head, 78% admitted that they were unsure how they would be able to feed their families and 52% said that their mental health plummeted when their financial situation got worst in the pandemic. When interviewing Charlie a question asked was; does your situation affect your mental health; his reply was as followed… ‘It gave me a lot of anxiety, constant questions like “have I got enough to pay for this” “am I going to be able to afford it”, “how is it going to affect me in the future”- it is just constantly in the back of my mind, from when I work. It makes you so stressed and down- it is just a weight hanging on me. Tires you out, you can’t sleep at night because the anxiety keeps you awake overthinking about it”.

Many people who don’t understand battling such a hard and scary problem like financial hardships tend to give out the consistent point of going to the systems that are in place to help poverty within families. However, countless times the system has proven to fail- especially since the coronavirus where jobs were being taken away and financial damage increased in a lot more households. There are systems such as Universal credit that the majority of low-income families use. However, it is criticised on its process where the scheme as quoted from the BBC News, “defied its critics in unprecedented and unforeseeable circumstances”. Many people describe the system as a disaster waiting to happen where they exclaim that it is simply ‘not worth it’ and that it ‘pushes people further into debt’. When asked the question of how the different help systems are failing my interviewee personally, he responded with “The lack of service help is what caused this situation in the first place, Due to a family member becoming ill, we then only had one income for a while and so that lead me to get out loans and credit cards, putting me in debt. If the universal credits weren’t such a long waiting list then maybe I would be in a slightly less of a negative situation as I am in now”.

It is not unknown that many people are unfortunately living to survive, and not living to enjoy. However, what many people forget to be aware of is that at the time of Christmas where people are living comfortably with various foods and presents; the time of the year where they turn up the warm heating and use up more electricity for decorations- families are struggling to even put a meal on the table. It has been notified and brought to the attention that destitution will increase within food banks more than ever this year with the coronavirus playing a colossal negative effect in thousands of lives. A rise in food banks has been recorded and alerted where usage increasing means there will be less to go around for everyone and with Christmas approaching it will leave a massive mark for not only the families who are in need but also will trigger a further rise in poverty in the future. However, in the Guardian, they state that “The trust said the impact of rising unemployment on low-income families after the planned winding down of the job retention scheme raised the prospect of a significant “reshaping of the landscape of poverty, destitution and food insecurity in this country”. 

Research has shown that due to the pandemic and the restrictions and schemes that took place during the covid crisis: 56% of people exclaimed that from the start of March there was a decrease in household hold incomes and 32% of people who rely on food banks admitted to having lost their jobs.

Though it is of no delight to see how much impact the coronavirus has had on food banks; it could be argued that its everlasting effect on the economy of our country is one that’s just as shocking, if not more. The pandemic has caused interference and disordering to our supplies. This extreme virus has not only caused heartache over lost ones but also reduced labour supply, business closures, job losses and in the result of this the economy has been battered by the loss of incomes, bad prospects, firm investments and the reducing of household consumption. The future of our country and the way we can rebuild our economy is stuck in the overwhelming thought of uncertainty, with both the government and the public unsure of where this virus will lead us. The future is not yet understood or planned and as the world moves on in this pandemic; investments fall and consumer confidence tightens under financial conditions.

An incredibly big part of the public concern, especially those who are already in low-income families, is the debt that has been created due to the coronavirus and the restrictions it resulted in in the pandemic. Households in Britain uphold an expectation of paying off the 6 billion pounds of debt that the virus caused and that is not to say the number won’t increase when this crisis is over. The Government is borrowing and spending over 200 Billion pounds to protect this country from covid and the impact it is having on everyone as well as the economy as a whole. With amounts spent on the NHS, others on businesses and money used on the furlough schemes, finances become an issue in which will lead a long-lasting problem on the UK and more specifically, relevant to this article, it will become a major problem for those living in low-income households already. There are currently many arguments of how the government will deal with this debt that they had to put us in for the country’s safety, however, what is not being discussed is how more than likely the solution will involve raising taxes or the government will have to cut spending. Increasing the taxes of the public means everyone will have less money to use; this will not only delay the economy further but will also put families who are already in poverty in an even harder situation with providing the essentials that they need to live for both their household and themselves. 

We are left in no doubt, of understanding just how cruel some life situations can be for those who are less fortunate than the majority. The coronavirus has left 80% of low-income families in more of a worse and crucial situation than what they already were in before the crisis occurred at the start of 2020. This is due to the job losses and the money cuts. When asking Charlie, my interviewee what advice he would give to other people who are also experiencing the same sort of situation that he is and feeling the way he has, he responded with: “The only advice I can give to people who are struggling in the same way as I am, or thinking they’re going to end up In this situation is to not stress. You and your family members and such have to work together and budget and support each other. Use the systems and don’t feel ashamed to ask for help because you really are not alone.”

Though at the moment it is an extremely rough situation and chain of events, it does not go without saying that there are still types of help out there for those who are struggling with financial priorities and essentials. The government has put forwards systems to aid with these hardships such as vouchers for shopping, vouchers for school children and their meals, an increase in the allowance for universal credit (which is temporary), an increase in the local housing allowance and suspensions for owed money for the universal credit. 

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