An open letter to teachers from a parent in poverty

For Scotland's Challenge Poverty Week, one mother tells teachers what they should know about the challenges of her son’s life outside school

An open letter to teachers from a parent in poverty

This is an open letter from the mother of a  primary school pupil in Scotland, shared with Tes by the Save the Children charity for Challenge Poverty Week. Names have been changed

Hi there,

My name is Debbie, I am a single mum to a nine-year-old boy, Charlie. We live in a one-bedroom flat. It’s tiny and cold, but we haven’t moved yet because I need to get a job.

The hardest thing about being out of work is getting back into work. Because I’m a lone parent, we’re looked at as being unfavourable for work because we need to take time off for the kids. I’ve also got mental health issues. Finding employers to take me on is quite difficult.


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The hardest thing about living on a low income is that we can’t do anything, we’re stuck in all the time. Charlie can’t even have a sleepover because we’re both in the same bedroom. He misses out. We wear second-hand clothes, the food budget is really tight sometimes. The shopping bags are lighter than ever and I struggle with most bills. We’ve had debt collectors at the door and that’s not healthy for Charlie to see.

Winter was really bad last year – we had ice on the inside of our windows. My main thing with not having an awful lot of money is that I’m afraid to put the heating on.

I’ve cut back on absolutely everything, I mean really cut back. I am incredibly resourceful. All  leftovers have to be reused, we put extra clothes on instead of the electricity. I make all my own birthday cards and Christmas cards. Charlie’s old clothes get recycled as pyjamas. Bread only gets used when required as it’s in the freezer, and absolutely nothing gets thrown out in this house.

I worry a lot being on a low income because Charlie doesn’t have the same opportunities to advance his knowledge and his education. I would love to be able to take him to the science centre once every two or three months, and the transport museum. He would love to go to parkour (free running) but we just can’t afford that, or even just going into town and  saying, "You’ve been a good boy at school this week, pick a toy."

In my picture-perfect world, if there were more jobshares and more childcare opportunities that would really take the pressure off. There are so many lone parents out there, we could make up so much of the workforce, then that would obviously be good for the economy as well.  The thing that worries me is that when Charlie goes to secondary school – if I’ve got a job, there’s no childcare for him.

It’s getting more and more difficult during the school holidays as Charlie is wanting to go out and do things and there’s just no way that I can keep up with that. During the summer it's an absolute nightmare and you don’t always notice it until the money’s gone and that’s because I’m doing extra shopping.

Clothing and shoes are the most expensive items when you have children. If Charlie is wanting to go out and about with his mates, even if it is just for a bag of chips or something like that, then it feels really expensive. I am absolutely dreading the next couple of years when he’s wanting to get on the bus and go into town because I just don’t have the money. Keeping a roof over his head is my priority.

I’d like to see free after-school childcare for children when they’re at secondary school – even if it’s just a homework club or something like that. I’d like to see a provision for the likes of Charlie to be able to join clubs for free – or even if it’s just something like a free pass into the science centre, something educational. A clothing budget for lone parents would be great – even if it’s just vouchers to spend in certain shops, it would mean families would have decent clothes.

I try to never let Charlie see me cry. But I cry often and sometimes feel so hopeless, that I’ve let him down. No child should worry about money, but I know my son does and it affects absolutely everything we do.

No family in Scotland should have to live with the constant stress of a life on the breadline. We need access to flexible work that pays at least the real living wage, access to affordable childcare and decent housing.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Yours,

Debbie

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