New Ipsos MORI research, conducted on behalf of the Family and Childcare Trust, tracking families coping with the impacts of austerity measures, has shown that financial pressures are increasingly spilling over into family life and putting relationships to the test. Our report, Family Matters, shows that key drivers of family fragility – whether financial, emotional, relational or physical – are the four C’s: cost of living, cars, credit and childcare with our survey showing just how widely this fragility is felt; 85% of parents think that the financial situation for families in Britain has got worse over the past year. The rising cost of living is a constant pressure with nine in ten (89%) mentioning that they had noticed an increase in the amount they are paying for both food and household bills. This has led families to employ a range of cost saving strategies from trading down in terms of where they shopped and what they bought and, at worst, parents going without in order to provide for their children.
The price of everyday things; fruit, meat, fuel… has just skyrocketed. (Father, married, one child)The cost of keeping the car on the road was one of the most destabilising sources of financial shocks for the families in the study. Doing this, however, was a priority for many given they relied on their cars for work and lacked viable public transport alternatives. This reflects survey evidence that families are struggling meet rising transport costs; 80% felt they had been affected by an increase in the cost of petrol in the last year - with three quarters (76%) concerned about the rising cost of public transport. Despite valuing the educational and social benefits offered by formal childcare, families commonly found it unaffordable and inflexible. This left families reliant on family and friends – an unsustainable option and one which placed additional pressure on relationships. It is no surprise, therefore, that in the survey, almost four in ten (37%) suggested that increasing the affordability of childcare was amongst their top three priority area for investment to help families in Britain in the future, with this proportion rising to half (52%) of parents of the under fives.
Childcare is pretty extortionate… If I didn’t have Mark’s parents I wouldn’t work. We need the money but at the same time childcare is so expensive that you end up just paying to work. (Mother, married, one child)Given these constraints, borrowing from family and friends or using high cost credit (payday and doorstep loan companies) was a common strategy in the eleven families studied. However, there was often a ‘relationship premium’ in borrowing from friends and family which created strain in close relationships and, of course a ‘financial premium’ for using high cost credit. Survey findings also point to the dwindling capacity of families to build up a buffer against debt (over the past year 62% of the parents surveyed reported having to reduce the amount of money they were able to put aside for the future).
Short term loans are bad, of course they are, everyone knows they are, but if I didn’t have them then I wouldn’t always be able to get through the month… (Single mother, two children)However, families pay an emotional price for this financial fragility: three in five (60 per cent) parents have experienced increased levels of stress and anxiety as a result of changes in their financial circumstances and a third (33 per cent) suggest that they have resulted in relational problems with family and friends. Looking forward, then the main concern parents in the survey had for the future was regarding the prospects for their family and children (mentioned by 80%). This was endorsed by the qualitative work which highlighted just how much importance parents attach to the success – particularly educational – of their children. In spite of this though, much of their thinking was necessarily directed to the present with many families feeling trapped – usually by one or more of the four Cs – and unable to see how they would change their situation with plans for the future being made more in hope rather than expectation.
We’re more like in a trap…chained to your job…no time for social life...having to pay the mortgage….you have to think about it all the time.(Father, married, four children)
I just want to live comfortably, not be on top of each other. I just need another room and a bit more money. I suppose I’ll get it one day. One day I’ll get myself straight again. Hopefully. (Single mother, three children)