Two new reports have been published from our qualitative longitudinal research study ‘Bringing up a family: making ends meet’, funded by JRF. They draw on the experiences of low-income families interviewed three times over five years up to early 2020, and again in autumn 2020 to identify what helps families to stay afloat and what threatens to pull them under, up to and during the first six months of the pandemic.
The research highlights the importance of stability for improving families’ financial well-being and building resilience, but that living on a low income often involved precarity with ups and downs over time. Families’ situations fluctuated with changes in work, benefits, health and family circumstances. When families were finding it tough to make ends meet, an unexpected crisis or drop in income could push them into deeper difficulty.
This already precarious situation meant that the pandemic hit hardest for families already facing the greatest insecurity and who had limited financial back up. Holding onto work and a series of temporary lifelines helped some families to weather the storm. But the combination of reduced income, and increased costs, in particular food budgets, intensified the pressure some were already facing, alongside additional challenges such as home schooling, digital access and isolation. The pandemic brought into the spotlight what happens when families experience financial shocks at times of crisis but this research shows how families often faced financial set backs and difficult times. It points to the need the need to ensure stable and adequate income to better support people so it isn’t a continual struggle to make ends meet, whether in or out of work, during and beyond the pandemic.