Rebecca Jones, who lives in Brighouse, has told that she has been left “scared” with the prospect of energy price hikes as she already can’t afford to pay for carpets or heating
Image: Rebecca Jones)
A mum-of-two who can’t afford carpets or heating for her home is “scared” that she won’t be able to cope when “extortionate” energy prices go up.
Rebecca Jones, 31, who lives in Calderdale, west Yorkshire, said it was a battle each month to pay her bills while on Universal Credit and yet was even worse off working full time.
“Some months I’m OK and I manage and I get by. But other months I find it really difficult,” she told YorkshireLive.
“One month I was unable to get bread, milk, the basic things we all take for granted. My mental health has really really struggled.
“I wait two weeks for the money to come in, and then often find there’s so many things I need to get it ends up gone and I’m back to square one. It’s a vicious circle.
“I don’t really bother about me but I constantly worry about whether I can keep the kids alright.”
Rebecca looks after her two children, aged nine and 11, as well as her niece, 14, due to her sister recently having a stroke.
She started off working 16 hours a week at the Premier Inn in August 2021, before moving to do more hours a week at a coffee shop.
But Rebecca said that she found herself struggling increasingly while working on Universal Credit – and sometimes didn’t have enough left to buy milk or bread.
Rebecca estimated that after rent she had £400 or £500 a month left when she was working for her family.
“I felt like I was getting penalised because I was working. It seemed like everything I made was taken straight off me,” she said.
“I felt much better mentally and able to manage before I started working.
“I had to organise child care on my own and start paying full council tax. I was getting myself in such a state and I wasn’t seeing my children because I was always at work. I couldn’t pick them up from school or anything, I was often too tired to cook too.”
The Universal Credit taper rate is currently 55%, meaning that for every £1 a claimant earns their allowance is reduced by 55p.
After around a month of struggling at the coffee shop, Rebecca opted to go back to receiving full Universal Credit to help her get by.
She now has rent paid and most of her council tax, and estimates that after that she has £1,000 a month left.
It has been easier but she still finds it hard to get by.
“The kids all needed new school shoes the other day,” she said.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be much, but if you pay £15 per pair of shoes for three children – that’s £45 I don’t have.
“All those everyday essentials – school stuff, snacks – they’re really difficult. I feel like I can’t provide for my kids.
“On really skint weeks we have to go and get boxed foods from Iceland and Heron Foods. I have a huge fear of running out of the things I class as urgent like sanitary towels, cleaning products, hygiene items. Sometimes women can’t afford to buy all these things and it’s very degrading.
“I can’t afford carpets in our property. Recently my son tripped over and got a huge splinter in his foot and I had to take him to the hospital to get it sorted. The nurse made a joke about us needing to get carpets in the house and I felt so judged. I had to contact a charity just to get us a taxi back from the hospital because I didn’t have the money.
“All these little things mount up.”
The rising cost of living is another big concern for Rebecca, who is already paying £10 a day for her electricity bill in her three-bed maisonette.
“My energy bills are absolutely extortionate. I don’t have the heating on that much because we can’t afford it. We tend to have it on for an hour in the morning and an hour at tea time,” she said.
“The cost of living rise is really scary. During winter I’ve already had to say to my kids ‘even though we’re freezing, we have to turn it off’ because I just can’t afford it.
“We often can’t afford to go out and do things in the winter so we spend all weekend in our cold house without the heating on.
“I’m constantly watching our meter to make sure we don’t go over.
“I struggle enough as it is – with the price cap going up in April, I just think we won’t be able to cope at all. I’d like to see Boris Johnson try live on the amount we get. My mum only gets £73 a week to live on – I don’t understand how that’s possible.”
The stress has left Rebecca really struggling with her mental health. She is currently receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help her cope.
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Rebecca added: “Some people are really struggling because they’re unable to manage and the cost of living increase will make it worse.
“Our local charity Noah’s Ark said they’ve heard some people are feeling suicidal. I enjoy going to work and have always been art of a working family, but it started to feel pointless. I do understand why people want to stay on benefits because it’s so much less stress.
“People don’t understand how difficult it can be. I think something needs to change.”
The Universal Credit taper rate was reduced from 63p to 55p recently by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP states it provides a financial safety net while claimants go back to work.
There is also some support for upfront childcare costs through a Flexible Support Fund award.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our changes to Universal Credit are boosting nearly two million working families by £1000 a year on average, making sure work pays, with our upcoming 6.6% rise in the living wage offering another boost.
“We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we are taking decisive action through a £200 discount on bills this autumn and a £150 non-repayable reduction in Council Tax bills through the £9bn Energy Bills Rebate.”