A struggling Scots mum has slammed the UK benefits system, claiming that it “punishes those who work”.
Claire Baxter, from Edinburgh, says the living cost crisis has ploughed her and her two girls aged 12 and 5, below the breadline.
The mum-of-three – who is a support worker for Low Income Families Together (LIFT) – says she is snubbed from school uniform support and free school meals because her earnings bring her £37 above the benefit threshold.
Claire, 30, says that her role in the organization is vital to her own mental health.
But, she has revealed that she is in a position where working is leaving her worse-off than if she were to quit and claim benefits.
If Claire were to decide to quit, then she could be as much as £250 better off with the family able to access additional support.
On this, she told Edinburgh Live: “I am a single mum and have to make ends meet on my own.
“But because the benefit system is means tested and I work, my wage takes me over a lot of the thresholds, and this means that I am not able to fulfill benefits for free school meals and uniforms which is a lot of extra pressure on our budget.
“I’m £37 over the threshold. But that £37 does not cover the difference of what things like school lunches and uniforms cost. If I never worked I would be able to claim up to £250 extra in benefits.
“Personally I would never give up working as it helps my mental health but I feel as though I am being punished for working as I end up worse off than some households who rely on benefits.
“My fear is having weighed up my own personal situation, I would be better off to give up my job.
“This scares me. It doesn’t make sense and worries me that work doesn’t pay.
“How do I teach my kids that working is the right thing to do and something to strive towards?
“On paper I could just say this makes no economic sense to stay in employment.
“But having a job lets me know that I’m doing the right thing by my kids and I hope I’m passing on that work ethic and that they understand the importance of having a job.
“My eldest has asked me in the past ‘why do you go out to work if you can get it for free?’
“For me it is about saying I bought you that jacket with my own money and she really appreciates that and takes pride in that.
“She’s so grateful and understands the value of money because of our situation.
“But that makes me feel guilty. As she is too young to understand our benefits system and how it works. She is only starting high school.
“Sometimes when my five year old wants something she will say ‘maybe next time you have money mummy’ and that just absolutely breaks my heart. The mum’s guilt really seeps in. It should not be like this.”
Her role at LIFT leads her to support individuals and families who find themselves in temporary accommodation, are homeless, or are struggling to put food in the fridge among a host of other issues.
She says that around 40 per cent of families claiming Universal Credit have a parent in work – a statistic that she says will only increase as the cost of living bites.
She delivers a Support and Surviving (SAS) group every Thursday in order to help people develop skills that will maintain strong mental health and bring about survival budgeting techniques to help navigate the cost of living crisis.
She says she is ideally suited for this role due to her own lived experience and ability to relate to the issues faced by families.
She continued: “I noticed a study last week that said that 40 per cent of those on Universal Credit are in work at the moment.
“In work poverty is just as big as traditional poverty at the moment.
“I just feel living costs have gone up but the living wage has not. This means that those already struggling before the pandemic are now at breaking point.
“The anxiety is crippling and I personally struggle with the emotional side of saying no to the kids.
“Unfortunately I’m saying no a bit more and cutting out the soft play treat which becomes a trip to the park. We have to watch the purse more than ever before.
“The rising costs have been tough on my girls. My eldest has just gone to high school and it can be a bit like keeping up with the Jones’s with other kids. You want them to have that branded bag to fit in but that is not always possible.
“Although she is mature beyond her years and understands the situation. But that makes me feel upset because she is too young to be understanding the benefit system and how poverty works. She should just be enjoying life as a young person.
“She shouldn’t know that mum doesn’t have money but I do have to be honest and she needs to understand reality.
“This is our reality and she needs to learn that doing well at school and getting a good job is important as that will be her escape.
“But that is a lot of pressure on someone so young.”
Claire added that she felt a lot of families that she helps, including her own, would benefit from universal free school meals and free childcare during summer holidays.
Her youngest daughter receives free school meals up until primary five but Claire worries that she will struggle to put an extra meal on the table when she reaches that point.
She adds: “We need to see a revisiting of the thresholds to ensure that work pays. That cannot mean taking away from those on Universal Credit who have already lost that £20 top up despite rising costs.
“As parents we are already struggling to make ends meet and decide between heating and eating. Now it really is at breaking point.
“We need free school meals universally, especially during the summer holidays. Alongside this, more free childcare and flexible working hours for parents would be life changing.
“I’m lucky that I can bring my kids into work with me at LIFT but not everyone has that.”
Claire stated that she worries about her children facing the stigma of being a family that struggles to make ends meet but there is a mutual sense of pride within their tight unit that she is able to work.
She said: “I help a lot of people in our community and so they know that I am doing everything I can for my girls to improve their lives as well as the lives of our neighbours.
“I’ll always be proud to work and my girls understand that. Despite the fact the system punishes us.”
You can learn more about what LIFT do through their website here.
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