Money, food, childcare and activities are serious anxieties for low-income working families, MPs have been told.
Four mothers came to Westminster on Wednesday to tell a panel of MPs about their struggles to make ends meet over the long summer holidays.
They said holidays, even days out, were out of the question on a tight budget.
“Your mind is constantly thinking about money – money for the children, money for this, money for that,” one of the four, Karen, told the MPs.
“You have to manage your money.
“Some weeks are worse than others.
“You’ve got bills coming out and other things and you are literally looking to see if you’ve got to add more money to a food bill.
“So, it becomes quite stressful, very stressful.”
Dawn said: “In the holidays, you’re spending more because your child’s not in school and you’re entitled to the school meals, so you’re doing a bigger shop.
“And children need activities – you’re spending more that way.”
Filling up on cereal
Dawn, Anne, Karen and Nichola were giving evidence to a joint sitting of the education and work and pensions committees.
They were asked if they themselves had ever gone without food in the holidays.
“As a parent you do eat less because obviously the children are the priority,” Karen said.
“I know times when I’ve had less to eat because I want them to have what they should have during the day.”
Anne said: “You feed them first and then whatever’s left, you have.”
Asked whether there was always enough left for her, she replied: “There’s always cereal, isn’t there?”
Nichola said: “You don’t buy such good quality food – so cereal, cheese, eggs bread, you’re managing on the basics.”
Karen told the MPs she felt very lucky to have a centre near her that “does activities for a very low cost”.
But she said the football camp her son would like to attend, at £40 or £50 pounds a week, was “just not possible”.
Dawn said extra money to help with the cost of childcare and activities would “really help”.
Anne said: “We’re not saying we want to take them to Alton Towers one day, somewhere else the next, but at least maybe once a week go somewhere nice.
“I often feel guilty that my little one will say to me, ‘Can we do that? Can we do that?’
“And I’ll say, ‘Not this week, babe, because we haven’t quite got the pennies yet but when we have, then we will.”
Karen said the worry of buying school uniform for the new academic year was another strain over the summer break.
“That’s another huge pressure of the six-weeks holidays – getting the uniforms, especially if they’re going from primary to senior school,” she said.
“You’re talking in the hundreds of pounds and you don’t get any help for it.”
‘Pick a number’
Switching to universal credit had been “awful”, the women said.
And they had felt more secure with the tax-credit system, because they had known what their payments would be each month “so you could plan, you could kind of budget”.
“It’s a gamble each month,” said Anne.
“I think they just pick a number,” said Karen.
Nichola said it would be much easier if she could get help with childcare costs upfront – rather than having to pay and then be reimbursed.
“That would change my situation entirely,” she said, “that would really resolve the situation I think for working families.”
Karen said: “We all want to work, but I don’t think we get the help and they don’t explain things to you.
“They just sort of say, ‘Right, look for work. There’s a job, bye.'”
As for going away on a family holiday over the summer break, the women said this was out of the question.
“We don’t go on holidays,” said Dawn.
“It’s too expensive in the six weeks even to think about planning something like that,” said Karen.