'I don't know how I'll cope come the winter’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As the cost of living soars, families are feeling the strain and schools are on alert for the potential ̀impact on students.

On October 1, the energy price cap will rise to £3,549 per year for the average household, a rise of 80% from its previous level. This on top of soaring inflation affecting food and other costs is pushing many families into poverty.

A study involving 5,000 parents across the UK has revealed the extent of the financial strain on families.

Almost three in four (74%) said that over the next year they are concerned about paying for gas and electricity, while a majority are also worried about being able to afford food (67%), petrol (67%), and rent or mortgage payments (58%).

Unsurprisingly, the research found that those families on the lowest incomes were much more likely to be worried about their finances.

For households with incomes between £10,000 and £20,000, 82% said they were worried about paying for gas and electricity while 76% worried about paying for food. Parents in London had the most acute concerns about the cost of living.

One parent told the researchers: “I've felt a bit overwhelmed. Childcare is rare and too expensive anyway and I have to balance that with a job and rising cost of living. I don't know how I'll cope come the winter.”

The polling, commissioned by Nesta and carried out by Opinium in late August, comes after a separate study by the NASUWT revealed the extent to which teachers are seeing the impact of the cost of living crisis in their classrooms.

Involving 6,500 teachers, the research found that schools are routinely referring families to food banks. Indeed, 58% of teachers said they had personally given food or clothing to their pupils in the last academic year and 63% said their school had done so.

Six in 10 said they had made referrals to outside agencies, with 35% saying they had helped a pupil’s family get access to a food bank. Six in 10 of the teachers said that by the end of last term more of their pupils were coming to school hungry.

Writing about the findings in Headteacher Update earlier this month, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The financial worry and anxiety that many parents are already experiencing is also being felt by children and is likely to exacerbate the negative impact on their education.

“As we head into the colder and darker months the damage being done to children’s education, learning and development threatens to escalate as families’ budgets are squeezed even tighter by the rocketing cost of energy and food.

“For many families there is simply nothing left for them to cut back on, no savings they can make. Teachers are deeply worried for many of the pupils they teach.”

Meanwhile, the Nesta survey has also found that as parents are facing huge financial strain, many are worried about their child’s wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic. Indeed, 56% of the respondents said they were concerned for their children’s mental health.

The parents were also concerned at the pandemic’s long-term impact on their children’s education (57%), about lost services such as speech and language therapy (55%), and about the impact of Covid on their child’s social interactions (60%).

Ravi Gurumurthy, chief executive of Nesta, said: “The cost of living crisis is a mental health crisis, not just a financial one. Scarred by the past two years of Covid, lockdowns and school closures, parents are now anxious about the future and how they will feed their kids, pay their energy bills and mortgages, and afford childcare.

“Multiple crises are likely to leave millions struggling to get by, and will deepen inequality. We need action on multiple fronts – a lower cap on energy bills, targeted financial help for low income families, and more catch-up help for children behind at school.”

Tom Symons, deputy director of Nesta’s Fairer Start team, said: “Parents are caught in the perfect storm of the cost of living crisis and the legacy of Covid. Financial insecurity causes toxic stress and long-term harm to children, so families desperately need more support from government. Alongside help to pay for food and energy, the government must also direct additional funds so that disadvantaged children don’t get left behind.”

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