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Jo’s story: money, food and my family during the lockdown

09 May 2020

The worldwide spread of COVID-19 and the resulting isolation measures have placed financial and emotional stress on families across society – but it’s especially hard for those for whom routine has become a survival mechanism. Here mother-of-two Jo, speaks about the struggles and successes of her life in isolation followed by how we can help. 

Our daily routine has absolutely – and massively – changed.  

We’d previously get up and have breakfast together, I’d drop my four-year-old off at school and then I’d go to pre-school activities like singing and stay & play with my youngest before we picked the eldest up from school. It was very structured and we would go to activities such as football, scouts and swimming every evening. I’m not currently working and we’d make use of local contribution food programmes – like Family Action’s FOOD clubs – and build our meals around the food we were given, using the healthy start vouchers that we receive from the government to top that up, and cash as a last resort. The budget is so strict because we are on benefits – that is just the reality of our life. I would never complain about it but our days were also defined by it – our whole lives revolved around planning. It takes planning, for example, to make sure you make bills and payments –  I’d always ensure I’d I pay everything off on the day I received any benefits – and I also suffer badly with anxiety and panic attacks so the feeling of having everything in order was comforting for me.  

It’s this feeling of anxiety that I’ve struggled most with during this period. I just can’t cope with the supermarkets at the moment – queuing to get in and the one-way system – but even without the anxiety how is a single mother with two children supposed to shop for two hours? I just worry about collapsing with panic while looking after them – and that’s a situation no mother wants to be in. 

Thankfully, we’re still able to pick up food from Family Action, even if we now have to disinfect our hands and the bags – but for the rest of our food I have to go online, which is impossible. Even if, like me, you’re still getting the free school meals vouchers you literally can’t spend them and even with the supermarkets where you can spend online you can’t get a food delivery slot. The result is that I’ve completely lost that ability to structure how we get food and I’ve also started panicking, thinking “do I need to start buying this or that?” I’ll worry for the next week, then the week after… and I just keep asking myself “when do I get back in control?” 

Although everybody has their struggles I feel that in some ways the way society tends to work is that single parents are disproportionately affected – they suffer because there’s no one to look after the kids while they shop, and there’s no downtime. Most families have food privilege – they can choose what they eat – but we depend on what we’re given by the FOOD Club. And yet, though it’s a compromise, it’s also a huge saving, and it’s how we manage.  

We have a varied diet and the kids and I aren’t fussy because we know there’s no alternative – I tried papaya for the first time last week! And we’ve really enjoyed baking together during the lockdown. There are other positives too. My rent’s 100% covered by social housing benefit and I really feel for those who don’t have that security as I don’t think I’d be able to manage if that was something I needed to worry about. My electricity company have also reduced my direct debit and, although it creates its own challenges, we’re no longer paying for any clubs or activities. Finally, I’m planning to go back to university later this year, so I hope that I might be able to find work in future and relieve some of these financial pressures. 

“when do I get back in control?”

It’s strange… Despite my struggles with finances, food and my mental health, I’m loving having this time with the kids. Trying to stay sane and keep them entertained at the same time is so hard – I’ve read “Room on the Broom so many times I know it off by heart! But I’m never going to have this time with my children again.

It would be really easy to be depressed with the stresses on me but every day I have to think positively about what we’ve got going for us.  

What to do if you’re worried about food  

A side effect of families – and particularly school children – staying home is that there are more meals to provide every day. For those working from home this may involve changing the nature of the food purchased but, in the case of young children, it may introduce costs previously met by free school meals or breakfast programmes during school time.  

Families we work with have reported that their weekly spend has doubled or sometimes even trebled in the past few months.  

Nutritionist Gill covers several ways you can cut the cost – including buying non-brand goods, planning effectively and spicing up staples – in our article on Families and food in a time of isolation. In that article we also cover the issue of school meals, and what you’re entitled to if you can’t access them.  

If you can’t afford to meet your food costs you might wish to consider using a food bank to make up the shortfall. The Charity the Trussell Trust has a useful tool for locating food banks on its website by postcode here.

What to do if you’re worried about your rent 

In the above article Jo expressed her gratitude at having her rent covered by social housing benefit, but this is not the case for everyone.  

Thankfully emergency guidance from the government means that landlords now have to give all renters three months’ notice if they intend to serve notice that they wish to end a tenancy (meaning they can’t start court proceedings until after this period). 

What’s more, the court service has suspended all ongoing housing possession action – meaning no current cases nor any going in can progress to the stage where someone’s evicted. This will initially last for 90 days from 27th March 2020 – you can review if this has changed here. 

Although Tenants should still pay their rent there are a range of measures to help landlords and tenants agree reasonable repayment plans, access funds, retain their jobs and access additional benefits, which can also be found here.

If you and your family are feeling the pressure during the COVID-19 outbreak, then consider contacting our free FamilyLine helpline. You can get in touch via telephone, text message or email for emotional support and guidance as well as practical advice and information.