Juliet lives with her partner and three children. She works in a supermarket and so was a key worker during the COVID-19 lockdown. At the start of the pandemic, her husband lost his job and so she became the only worker in the family. She says they were struggling and it was her son’s guidance teacher at school who noticed and said she could support them to get food vouchers. She hadn’t thought she should be entitled to anything but was assured she could apply and is very glad that she did.
As her partner lost his job at the start of the pandemic it was just her income coming in and they had to wait on his application for Universal Credit, which took five weeks:
“My partner lost his job through it, so it was just my income at the start that was coming until he was able to get Universal Credit. Aye, it helped us out tremendously. We were… Sometimes we were sitting nearly without food because I wasn’t getting paid ’til the following week and my partner wasn’t getting paid ’til a couple of weeks later… [it] was brilliant because it helped us out… It helped us out quite a lot, to be honest.”
Juliet received food vouchers from Aberlour over a period of two months during the COVID-19 lockdown which enabled her to get food for her children, herself, and her husband. She says:
“It was a godsend to be quite honest. The way it happened, it was like a couple of days before we all got put into full lockdown and everybody got furloughed. He lost his job a couple of days before everybody else got furloughed. It was just the way it worked out because he works for a [service industry] company, so they weren’t getting any more work or anything, so he ended up… If they’d kept him on for a couple of days longer, he would have got furloughed, but he didn’t. He’d lost his job, so we had to go for Universal Credit.”
Juliet says that although they had the five-week wait for Universal Credit they chose to go for the advance payment and that this was very useful to them. They would have struggled to a far greater extent had they not gone for the advance payment.
Juliet says that the problem with Universal Credit for her family is the limited amount they are allowed to earn in Juliet’s job each month before the money gets taken off her partner’s Universal Credit award. What is particularly difficult is that the timing of her fortnightly income can sometimes fall three times within a Universal Credit month, which can result in the family receiving less Universal Credit that month. A legal case was won for a similar issue where four lone parents were paid on a monthly basis, which sometimes meant they were paid twice during the Universal Credit month due to, for example, bank holidays. The judge ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) acted irrationally and unlawfully. This is happening almost every month to Juliet and can cause financial problems:
“Well, I’d say we’re not struggling, but it is quite difficult because the cost of everything’s gone up but you’re not earning enough money to pay for it all. There’s not much you can do. You just need to try and get on with it, to be honest, isn’t it? You can’t do anything about it, but it’s not that either. The more hours you work, the more money that gets taken off, so if I take on extra hours now, the money comes off of [my partner’s] Universal Credit. I’m only allowed to earn £282 a month, so as soon as I earn £282, everything after that, it gets taken off of [my partner’s] money. Sometimes the way it works, I get paid fortnightly, so sometimes by the time [my partner] gets his money, because it falls on a certain day every month, so I could have three payments in that month. It could be £600-and-odd pounds, so it’s 63p off of every pound that I earn they take off of [my partner’s] money. Sometimes they’re taking nearly £500 off of his money because I’ve had to do extra hours to keep us going, but then it’s just been taken off us. It’s a vicious circle.”
“You’re scared to do any extra hours to try and get more money because you’re going to end up skint at the end of the month anyway. My weans have always got food in the freezer. There are always nappies for my youngest. She’s on normal milk now, so I don’t need to worry about buying tins of milk or anything like that. Sometimes, aye, you can have to go without certain things like sweeties. They can’t get as many sweeties as they want, or you can’t go out, or you can’t go a wee day trip anywhere because you can’t really afford to pay for bus fares or train fares. So it’s a day in the house kind of thing. Just the wee normal things.”
Juliet was grateful that she was able to receive financial support from Aberlour during this time but was also embarrassed at needing to:
“I’m not a person to go and ask. I won’t, but when [Aberlour worker] was phoning up and… You feel embarrassed about it because you’re like that. Got to ask somebody that… Obviously, you know her, but it’s not like your family or anything and, I don’t know, sometimes it felt awkward. When you were like that, oh God, actually I need help for this and that. It made you feel a wee bit as if, you can’t even provide. You need to ask for help just to get food for your own weans when it should be something that should be there. You shouldn’t have to ask for that. It was a godsend, and even my partner said that as well. It helped us through a few hard times, and it was good to know that it was there to help you out.”
The difference that receiving money from Aberlour meant to Juliet was that:
“I didn’t have to worry that my weans were going to run out of food because the voucher was there… It was, like maybe the day before I get paid, I’m ‘Oh God, I’ve got no money for milk. Oh, that’s all right, I can go and use my wee voucher and I can get milk and whatever else it is in, to get them their dinners until I get paid’. Which was brilliant. It was really good. It was. It was a lifesaver sometimes.”
Juliet found lockdown difficult because of the three children being in the house using more resources:
“I think because you were spending more money because you were in the house. The weans weren’t going out so they were eating more in the house. Then you were going through toilet rolls and nappies. I think it was just more the fact that everybody was all stuck in, I think. They couldn’t get outside. They couldn’t get out and play. So you were going through all sorts of things, all sorts of food, more food than what you expected because when they were at nursery and they were at school, they were getting lunch in the nursery. Sometimes breakfast… Whenever mornings that she was in at nursery, she would get breakfast and her lunch. So you weren’t having to have all that in the house, I think. That’s what it was more to do with and now that they’re back at school, they’re getting their lunch in school or their breakfast. I think that was more what it was that made it more difficult I think, to be quite honest.”
Juliet’s debts include a bank loan that she and her partner took out when he was working. This is repaid at £50 per month and she still feels able to make these payments.