‘This has felt like my rock bottom’: a mother on child care and food banks

Sophie Hook, 29, has a two-year-old daughter, Nellie. Before becoming a single mother, she worked in a senior role at an estate agent based in Coventry. After maternity leave, she found a place at a good nursery but was denied flexible working and had to leave her job. She is now working part-time, and uses universal credit to contribute to childcare costs. Her UC payment comes on the ninth of the month – but nursery fees have to be paid by the first.

“There have been periods where haven’t been able to put money on my gas meter for hot water until that payment on the ninth. Food would be in the cupboards, but in short supply, enough for my daughter to have healthy meals that I could make in bulk, but it was a struggle.

“I sacrifice buying myself anything that isn’t essential. I do not treat myself. I’ve cancelled my gym membership despite the massive benefit it had on my mental wellbeing. I have changed where I shop to the budget supermarkets. I buy secondhand for my daughter and I don’t even want to think about Christmas this year.

“Last week, after a call with the health visitor, I asked how to access a food bank to help me get by. This has felt like my rock bottom. I feel ashamed that I cannot provide for my child without resorting to this. I cry a lot. I feel ashamed that I am struggling to find a job and childcare to accommodate the hours I need and find that balance. I feel like I am not a worthy member of society any more, as I am unemployed, I’m broke, and constantly worrying about how I’m going to live month to month.

“I was recently offered a job and had to turn it down. Nell’s nursery couldn’t accommodate the hours I needed and I would not have been able to move her to a new nursery before the start date.

“The system is broken. Mothers, especially single mothers, want to be working. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live like this, with the added pressure of being a strong role model for my daughter. All I want to do is give my daughter the best start in life and it feels like I’m constantly fighting a losing battle. I’m drained, depressed, overwhelmed and in desperate need of change.”

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