Young carer’s ‘heat or eat’ fears as children become ‘forgotten’ victims of living crisis


Marissa Salter, from Cornwall, has been caring for her mum since the age of nine and is also now home-schooled after the pandemic – but says she now worries about their future as energy bills soar

Marissa, has been a carer for her mum Suzanna since the age of nine

A 12-year-old girl who cares for her mum at home has said she now fears having to choose between ‘heating or eating’ amid a spiraling cost of living crisis.

Marissa Salter, from Cornwall, has been caring for her mum since the age of nine and is also now home-schooled after the pandemic.

Her mum Suzanna, 53, who suffers from COPD and other conditions after a car accident, calls Marissa her “rock” and says she has been her whole strength throughout the pandemic.

But Marissa says talk about the rising cost of living has left her afraid, even at the tender age of 12, about whether her and her mum will need to choose between heating or eating.

She said: “It is so concerning, because I am with mum mum 24 hours of the day and during those days phone calls are made about paying gas and electric and stuff.

“Although my mum obviously has to talk about that on the phone, I hear the difference and how much we will have to pay.

Suzanna and Marissa say they now worry about how to manage soaring energy bills

“You can hear prices are going up and it’s worrying because with mum being disabled and doesn’t have a great chance of earning money through a job – I think, ‘where will we get extra money from?’

“The biggest concern is we are going to be able to get food or heat our home.”

“It should never be a choice of being warm and having electric or being able to eat.”

Marissa has been caring for her mum her whole life, but the coronavirus pandemic escalated her fears about how she could keep her mum well.

She added: “I have always helped mum, and over time it got a bigger and bigger role.

“I’m now a young carer and am home educated. I want to do everything for my mum and just want to make sure she is doing OK and isn’t in pain or anything – so obviously, when it comes to things like shopping , I will do it.

“I know I bring it on myself, but it’s because I want to do it.

“There’s a lot of young people in my position as young carers and I think it makes you feel like you have grown up too fast.

“Now I look back and this, I would do so much to be a child again, without any worries and being totally carefree.”

Marissa said she loves caring for her mum, but worried about their financial future


Suzanne Salter)

As Marissa’s responsibilities grew caring for her mum, she was offered counseling at school in year four- which Marissa said made her realize how much pressure she felt under at the time.

Having lost members of the family to illness and with more responsibilities at home, Marissa said she was felt herself becoming increasingly stressed.

She added: “When i was at school – especially junior school, this woman would come in and we would talk about home life and things stressing me out.

“I remember the first time was in year four and I went to the room we were in and I sat down and she said, ‘tell me how you’ve been’ – and I just started uncontrollably crying.”

Marissa has now sought support from Action for Children – who help young carers like her and millions of others in need.

Marissa said the pandemic left her feeling more isolated as a young carer at home


Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Action for children found 47% of 5,000 children surveyed children are now worrying about their family’s finances

They also found a sharp rise in the number of children recognizing a deterioration in their mental health compared to before the pandemic.

A staggering 42% of children now say they worry about their mental health compared to 29% of those surveyed in 2019.

Marissa said she noticed her mental health worsening during the pandemic as she became increasingly fearful of losing her mum, leaving her terrified what her own future would then hold.

She said: “I felt lost because the change of going from a big environment with over 200 people to just being with mum – it was a very sudden change

“I was 11 at the time when lockdown first hit and being a young carer, I did rely on some form of socializing outside home, so it was quite alienating.

“One of the things I would always think of was, ‘what if mum got Covid and got very sick and God forbid had to go into hospital – what would happen to me?

“Luckily that hasn’t and won’t happen and we are both being very careful still.

Action for Children found a staggering 47% of children worry about their family’s finances


Photothek via Getty Images)

“It is very scary being an 11 year old and thinking what if mum dies. I do know I am so young and shouldn’t be thinking about death so much.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “It is the fundamental responsibility of any government to make sure every generation of children has a better childhood and a brighter future than the last.

“Day in, day out our frontline staff support children grappling to see how they fit into our complex world –navigating big issues including financial worries, climate change and the pandemic. Sadly, since we conducted our research, intensifying money worries and the war in Ukraine will leave children feeling the world is a brighter place.

“The likely fall-out of the Ukraine conflict with even higher energy bills and inflation rates not seen for a generation, is a double blow for low-income families, already locked in a crippling cost of living crisis. The pandemic also continues to hang heavy, and its impact will be felt long into children’s futures.

“The government needs a clear plan to reduce child poverty and it can take immediate action to support those on the lowest incomes by making sure benefits keep pace with the soaring cost of living in the tough months ahead.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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