COIVD-19’s impact on the nation’s health, economy and schools has been dramatic and far-reaching but, in many respects, the effects have been felt hardest behind the closed doors of family homes. Thanks to our emergency appeal, supported by Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package, we have distributed nearly £400,000 to over 350 families struggling with food insecurity or financial pressures as a result of the virus. Here, mum, Nicola tells us what it’s like to be one of those families.
Even before COVID things were tight. I receive benefits but it’s not that much money and it’s always been a struggle – It’s often a choice between paying for the bills and eating… but since the virus it’s been especially hard. I’ve got two daughters – one who’s now moved out as she’s an adult with kids of her own and my youngest, who lives with me, and she’s been at home all day throughout the crisis.
She’s not a big eater but now she’s there for an additional meal every day which my partner and I have to provide. My electric bill has gone sky-high. I used to be able to put £10 a week on my electric but that’s doubled, and my gas has more than doubled. What’s more, when COVID first happened my TV and washing machine broke about two weeks in and it just felt like everything was falling apart.
My eldest daughter agreed to wash my clothes for me and still does, as we never replaced the machine, but I was panicking about not having the TV until my elder sister loaned me one. I haven’t got the money to do anything and I’m not a sociable person, so the TV helps give me something to do.
It hasn’t always been like that – I used to work in a working men’s club and as a cleaner – but depression took over my life after both my parents died of cancer. My dad died a couple of months before the birth of my youngest and I was diagnosed with post-natal depression after the birth. I lived with my mum and dad at the time and I was doing okay, although looking back now I think part of the post-natal depression was that it was hard to be happy, as I was still grieving.
It was around 8 years later when my mum passed away. She didn’t want to go into hospital so I cared for her at home but in the end it was quite a short illness. She was told she had three weeks to live and died ten days later. I was always there for her during that time and I can recall every moment… I can turn round and tell you what happened every day; every last detail; it still feels fresh for me even today and I just can’t seem to get out of this depression. Everything went downhill, and I’ve not worked since.
“COVID hit and my mental health problems went through the roof. I couldn’t cope…”
Despite not working I was ok. I was able to pay my bills and get on top of things… Until COVID hit and my mental health problems went through the roof. I couldn’t cope… I was struggling trying to manage my bills and my shopping and everything else. I couldn’t rely on my family to help during isolation as I had before – they had lost work and were struggling too – I didn’t have anyone to turn to and I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. I couldn’t see my eldest daughter or my grandchildren because of social distancing. Every time I stepped outside the door I’d sweat like crazy and I’d have heart palpitations and feel sick from the worry of catching the virus.
The shelves at the shops were always empty as everyone was panic buying, I had to buy the food and essentials when they were available. This meant that I had to spend more on my shopping and meant I couldn’t afford to pay my bills. I had to ensure that there was food on the table for my youngest daughter and – that’s one of those decisions I’ve had to live with. I tried to find support online, but we didn’t seem to qualify for any financial support as you had to be nominated to apply… I didn’t know anyone to ask to apply on my behalf and we didn’t have a social worker or anything. It was a lonely situation to be in.
Thankfully my youngest daughter had a volunteer mentor from Family Action’s Friendship Works programme before COVID, and after talking with a member of staff from the service they suggested they put us forward for a grant. That staff member has been an absolute star and without her support I think we’d have fallen apart as a family. She helped my daughter find a mentor before the virus but she’s also helped me financially by helping me apply for a Family Action survival and recovery grant.
The £600 we got from the grant helped pay the gas, the electric, the rent… It helped with getting the shopping – it helped with everything. It also allowed me to pay for the internet while my daughter was off school, which meant she was able to continue with her school work. She’s been able to do that work online, and she wouldn’t have been able to do that without the grant, which I think would have made her really depressed.
She’s quite a bright child, knows a lot and I wouldn’t want her to fall behind. I don’t like to think about what would have happened if I didn’t get the help… I’m not sure I’d still be here and if I was I’d be a lot worse than I am now. I would have fallen apart or had a nervous breakdown.
I’m so grateful and, in future, I hope to be in a better position than I am now. That’s what I hope for, and that’s all I want.
If you or someone you know has been struggling with mental health or finances, 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 here.