I'm a single mum – we can't afford a summer holiday so we're pet sitting and getting FREE accommodation | The Sun
LIKE millions of single parents, Rachel Allen is wondering how she and her son Lewis will make it through the summer holidays this year.
Britain is in the grip of a cost of living crisis which has seen the cost of energy bills, petrol and groceries rocket – and some families are having to make some hard sacrifices just to cope.
Rachel, 41 who runs a marketing coaching business, said: “I run my own business so don’t have a regular salary, which makes it really hard to apply for extra help like Working Tax Credits.
"As a single parent, all of the responsibility for running the house and paying the bills lies on your shoulders.
"There is a limit to how creative I can be to make the money situation better and I'm worried about the effect of it on my son."
Soaring inflation is set to hit 13.3% this year, the Bank of England has hiked interest rates to 1.75% and there are dire warnings that the UK is headed for a year-long recession.
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Latest forecasts show that energy bills will hit an eye-watering £5,000 next year – pushing many families to breaking point.
Rachel, who is mum to 9-year-old Lewis said: "I really worry about the impact this will have on Lewis. He knows he isn't doing all the fun things his friends are doing.
"I don't want him to worry about money – he's too young – but I don't know how to explain to him that I can't afford everything we used to do."
It's a perfect storm of problems for family finances and Rachel, like many other parents, is not sure how she will cope.
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Recent research by charity Gingerbread found that more than a quarter of single parents had already gone without food in a bid to try and cope with the soaring cost of livings.
Some 95% of single parents are worried about the rising prices of essentials, and three-quarters will struggle to afford heating and electricity
Research by CompareTheMarket found that 44% of single parents are considering taking on debt just to cover their household bills.
Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, said: "Single parents are resourceful and resilient but they have a breaking point and the cost-of-living crisis is pushing many beyond it."
The charity said single parents are at a disadvantage, and more help should be targeted to help these households.
'We can't afford a holiday, so we're pet-sitting'
While there is some help available from the government – like Rachel, not all families will qualify for it.
There are an estimated 1.7 million single parent families across the UK,and many are cutting down on "luxuries" such as holidays, eating out or buying new clothes.
Rachel said: "I can't afford a holiday this year so we are going to do pet-sitting instead.
"We stayed at exactly the same house in Bournemouth last year but paid £700 for the week – this year we will look after the owner's three guinea pigs and get the accommodation for free instead."
Summer holiday activities will include bike rides and picnics instead of going anywhere in the car or having nice lunches out.
Rachel said: "There are definitely going to be fewer treats for Lewis. I have to avoid places like the funfair where you can easily spend £20 in an hour.
"I need to spend £20 and get an entire day's entertainment for it.
"But a nine-year-old can't understand why we can't do all the lovely things we used to, like treats, a takeaway at weekend or a holiday abroad.
"When Lewis asks me about why we can't do things, I have to be careful and explain how money is tight and we have to pay the bills.
"But he's still too young to understand how money really works. It's difficult."
Meanwhile, Rachel has had to give up her gym membership to save cash.
She was a member of gym group David Lloyd because she could get Lewis access to activities and use its cafes as a place to work, but at £150 a month, it was too expensive.
Rachel, from Milton Keynes, has stopped mid-week top-up shops at the Co-op.
Doing one big food shop at Aldi or Lidl each week instead saves her around £50 a month.
And she's cutting down on car journeys too, as it now costs almost £100 to fill up her tank.
"Now I'm thinking, could we walk or cycle instead? It's good for the environment but its not always convenient," she said.
Rachel has stopped buying new clothes and treats for herself. For a friend's wedding she bought a dress on Ebay for £20 and borrowed shoes, handbag and a necklace from a friend. It saved her around £250.
Rachel said: "I'm bracing myself – I think this is what life is going to be like for at least the next couple of years. It' s really worrying."
What to do if you're struggling with bills
Check what help is available to you – use a benefits calculator to work out what you are entitled to.
Gingerbread's Victoria said around 75% of single parents are now entitled to Universal Credit.
She said: "We are experiencing the biggest cost-of-living shock since the 70s. Things are already difficult for single parent families and with more price hikes coming, things can only get worse."
There isn't specific help for single parents but you should check whether you could claim child benefit, child tax credit, or help with rent and council tax.
More than 380,000 families used tax-free Childcare in March 2022, according to Compare The Market.
It's the highest number of families recorded as using the scheme since it was launched in April 2017, but thousands more could be missing out.
See whether your child qualifies for free school meals or if you could get a grant of up to £200 to help with the cost of school uniform.
You might also be entitled to child maintenance payments.
Organisations such as StepChange and Citizens Advice can offer free guidance if you're struggling.
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If it is difficult to cope with bills, speak to your provider – whether it's utility bills, a mortgage or credit card, they should help you come up with an affordable payment plan.
The Breathing Space scheme can help too – under it, you won't be charged interest or late payment fees on your debt for up to 60 days and can't be hassled by bailiffs.
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