Lived experience

Amber's story: Feeling the financial strain

By COSMO on March 13th, 2023.

Sutton Trust COSMO Youth Panel member, Amber, discusses her family's financial struggles through the pandemic.

Amber is a member of the Sutton Trust COSMO Youth Panel.

COVID-19 came as a wave that shocked the world, giving me and my family no time to prepare for what was to come. With school being interrupted and all social events being cancelled, my life changed completely. Although I thankfully did not have to face loss due to the virus, I still face many issues coming out of the pandemic including one of the most common problems of the pandemic: financial issues.

Financial struggles  

The economic and financial impacts of the pandemic were the main struggle for my family. We were already receiving state benefits and free school meals, and once the pandemic swept over the UK our reliance on them ended up increasing. Coming from a single parent household, my mother worked two jobs to keep our family afloat. However, this changed during the pandemic, as my mother received a call from one of her jobs telling her she had been made redundant. This meant my mum was struggling to afford to feed our family and was often not at home, as she was forced to work full-time as a carer for my nan without being paid.

Not only that, but our family’s financial situation also meant that technology was not something available to us and so most of my schoolwork was done on my phone. It was not until my school called a few months into the pandemic that I was able to get a computer from school to use, so that I could work more effectively. My brother was also able to get a borrowed computer and so thankfully neither of us had to share. If we had shared, we would have both had less time to do our work. The lack of technology for the first half of the pandemic meant that I had fallen behind on my GCSE lessons, so I spent around 10 hours a day trying to catch up while also trying to keep up with my lessons that were still going on at the time. Even when there were academic holidays, I was still working on catching up and found no time to myself.

Consequences after the pandemic

With my mum outside every day and at a higher risk of being seriously ill with COVID due to health issues, I was in a constant state of worry for her safety. Whilst I could not do anything to prevent my mum from working, due to the need for money, I knew I wanted to help her. The second I was able to, I went to find any job that would accept me. So I eventually found a job, working at events selling merchandise, and have been working around 9 hours a week ever since. Although this has improved the financial situation of my family, it is not a permanent solution as my mum doesn’t like borrowing money from me and often leaves me out of conversations involving the need for money. I had also applied for a bursary the second I entered sixth form and successfully received it.  We were under a higher strain financially during the pandemic and we still have not recovered fully.

The cost of living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis only exacerbated the financial problems that my family had experienced due to the pandemic, as it prevented us from being able to recover in full from the financial drop we experienced. Even with changes in government many can agree the rate of inflation does not seem to be decreasing and it led my family to having to eat food that is unhealthy (for example, ready-made food) and potentially unsafe (for example, being out of date) because it is the cheapest option, or often skipping meals because we could not afford simple things such as bread. Although the cost-of-living crisis is a short term problem, it does not feel short term for my family as we continue to struggle after the chaos that was the pandemic.

The future  

However, to combat these issues for my family I am applying for multiple degree apprenticeships as I believe it will be more affordable than if I were to go to university alone. This will hopefully make me financially independent and help my mum take more care of herself and even give herself a much-needed holiday that could give her the break that she needs.