Health and wellbeing

Research shows that there is a strong association between health & wellbeing, and income, and that the relationship exists in both directions. Poor health & wellbeing is a predictor of poverty but low income, persistent poverty and even short-term falls in income, increase the risk of ill health and negatively affect wellbeing (Smith and Middleton, 2007: 58). Although there is complexity in the relationship, poverty has detrimental impacts on parents’ health & wellbeing, which, through direct and indirect effects, has detrimental impacts on children too . In the context that the health & wellbeing of parents and of children and young people are compromised by living in poverty, we turn to our families in the study to explore their experiences.

Some of the families are affected by specific health conditions or disabilities of either parents or children and we will turn to these shortly. All of the families, however, those working, studying and currently not in paid work, experience anxiety due to the financial struggles that they face.

Jamie, who works full-time, said:

‘There's definitely an added stress, to try to keep our head above water kind of thing. That brings stresses and strains. I think my wife gets more stressed than me… I just let most things slide and deal with it... My wife gets stressed out with it.’

Sarah says that her financial situation and the stress it causes has led to negative health consequences:

‘I was waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning, bolt upright, heart pounding, worrying about something, and going “what is I’m actually worrying about here?” And I would have to talk myself down to go back to sleep. And it was things that are outwith my control… And it always comes down to money. It’s always about money. That’s always the root of it… I’ve been really ill, I’ve had really bad depression and anxiety and stuff over the last two years’.

Janice has had troubles with her ESA and says:

‘I was at my doctor and I said “I'm having a nervous breakdown here. I can't cope”… I’ve been so ill, and the stress, which doesn't help, it makes it worse. And I'm on antidepressants as well again because I couldn't cope... I just couldn't cope'.

While Janice’s ESA has been reinstated on appeal she is anticipating another review that is likely to remove her benefit again. In anticipation of this, she says: ‘You’re scared to look to the future. That's what scares me more than anything (the future)’. Janice starts crying and says: ‘I said I wouldn’t cry this time, it’s just that I know it’s coming and I’m just trying not to think about it’.

Pauline had been unaware of the constant anxiety she has been living with:

‘So on the whole I’ve had a very very stressful few years... Most of the time I just don’t think about it (anxiety). There’s a low level stress there that I’m not really that aware of because I’ve gotten so used to it over the past few years’.

Mary has applied to access a counselling service to help with her anxiety. She says:

‘It (her anxiety) has just gone overboard the now. I was actually at the doctors today about it. But again, that’s money worries. My anxiety is making me really really ill. My anxiety has gone through the roof. The minute I wake up, all I’m thinking about is money, money, money. What have I to pay tomorrow? How am I going to get the electricity to do another two days? It’s quite scary’.

Mary feels that she is withdrawing from her friends because of the difficulties she is currently facing. She has been invited to a friend’s house on the Saturday night but is reluctant to go because they are talking about having a sleepover and she is worried her nightmares will keep people awake. There is a real risk of Mary becoming socially isolated:

‘I dinnae like to bother people… on Saturday I’m meant to be going to (my friend’s) house with the girls… we’re going to get a catch up and stuff, and I’m thinking to myself, should I go or should I no? Because she’s like, “we’ll have a sleepover, we’ll have a girlie night” and that’s stressing me out because I dinnae sleep. What if I have a nightmare and stuff like that. I ken they’d be understanding, we would just laugh about it… I think I’ve got myself into a rut now, I’ve got myself into a rut, but it’s just taking that one step to get out of it’.

Mary has previously seen a counsellor about her anxiety over her son’s disabilities and the effects it has on her but she says she can’t go there again because it’s too far away.

‘Sometimes I just get really down and think I’m absolutely hopeless and I’m no good to anybody. Because I’ve no money… It’s just like a vicious circle. But I just keep thinking, “one day Mary you’ll get a break”. I’ll just have to make the most of it (until then)’.

Impact on children’s wellbeing

Overwhelmingly, parents try to protect their children from the consequences of living life on a low income. Children, especially older children, do notice and this can result in their making sacrifices of their own. Children’s sacrifices include not letting parents know about opportunities that may cost money and pretending that they don’t want to participate in school and leisure activities in the first place.

Children’s sacrifice

As Jamie, father of twins explains:

‘We've got a problem with them going on camps. For example, the twins, when they were leaving primary seven, and there's a P7 camp, and there was no discount for the fact that we've got two children, so I think for both of them to go it would have cost us about four hundred and odd pounds so it ended up I think, in truth, that the two of them kidded on they didn't want to go, because they knew how expensive it was going to be for us. We basically just couldn't afford to send two of them. So they missed out on that. We asked the school could they no... we weren’t asking for one for free but is there no chance of a discount or anything. We even suggested that the school tried to do some kind of car boot sale or anything like that to raise funds so that everybody got it cheaper, because it's not just us in that position. They said they'd take out ideas on board but they never did anything about it. So, it's tough when it comes to things like that as well, trips and things. ’ Jamie was asked how he thinks the twins felt about it, he said ‘like I say, they made out they were all right about it but they were more gutted when their pals come back and started telling them the stories of things they got up to and things like that and they weren’t able to go. But they weren't the only ones’.

Pauline doesn’t feel any pressure to have what other people have but feels that her children feel that pressure, especially her son. She says her children ‘are completely aware that they can’t afford what other people have’ and that, although they ‘take it in their stride’, it causes them ‘frustration’.

Pauline thinks it’s ‘quite likely’ that her son and daughter don’t sign up for things because they know their mother’s financial situation. While she thinks this is true, she also says her son is always asking for money: ‘(her son) constantly forgets all the time and is constantly asking for stuff and I constantly have to remind him how skint we are, despite the fact that he knows it because there’s nowt in the fridge. He gets quite frustrated by it… they’ve obviously been worried… it’s just been very stressful’.

Fiona’s sons are entitled to free school meals, which they took at primary school. But since her eldest has moved up to high school this has changed. Although the daily amount of the school lunch is uploaded onto a card for use in the school dining room, his friends are not on free school dinners so they get money from their parents for lunch instead. They either buy lunch from the van outside the school or the shop along the road from the school. She said that after a short while at high school her son changed. He didn’t want to go to school. He developed a very bad attitude towards his mother and displayed other distressed behaviour such as pretending he was sick or had diarrhoea so he isn’t have to go to school. Fiona discovered that he didn’t’ want to go to school because he was getting bullied for being poor because he didn’t have any money to go to the shop or van because all his money was on the card for use in the school dining hall. This lasted from the start of school in August until after Christmas before Fiona got to the bottom of it and found a solution. Fiona decided to give her son money for school lunches instead so that he can use the can or shop and be the same as his friends. She says:

‘I had to go and pick him up from the school one day because he had been sick. Just before lunchtime. He never had any dinner money left. And I said to him “what’s happening? What’s going on?” and he said “I’m getting bullied because I’m poor and I’ve not got any money for a bacon roll”. I ken handing him £10 isn’t the answer to everything and I’m not going to be able to do that all his life. I’m not going to be able to pay him out of situations but I just thought, “I can’t... You’re in first year at school. It’s hard enough as it is”. He got bullied right though primary school ... and I thought “I cannae bear the thought of you being here and not enjoying it and just getting bullied because you haven’t got money for a bacon roll'.

Fiona asked her son why he didn’t tell her he was being bullied and he said because he knew she didn’t have any money to give him and so didn’t want her to worry. She finds this very hard.