Politicians are keen to promote the view the economy is on the turn but speak to working mothers and fathers and they will tell you a different story. Neil Hudson does just that.
Prime Minister David Cameron indicated, when he came to Leeds last week, the green shoots of economic recovery were beginning to emerge. However, a recent survey by Asda found working families are struggling to make ends meet.
The Asda Mumdex survey concluded we have five more years of belt-tightening to look forward to – a far cry from the political position.
The Mumdex survey concluded that by 2018 the average UK household will be £1,300 a year worse off in real terms than in 2009, when spending power was at its peak. It said that in five years time the average UK household will spend £3,900 a year more on essential items like transport, utilities and housing than they do now.
It also predicted consumer price inflation will outpace wage growth, growing year on year by an average of 2.5 per cent compared to average wage increases of 2.2 per cent a year between 2013 and 2018.
Finally, it called for a rise in the Income Tax threshold.
Dawn Brown, 39, is a mother of two who juggles work and homes life and understands the pressures which are put on most working families, although as a single parent, she probably feels them more than most.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Dawn, whose children are one and six, said: “I think most households still find it very difficult to cope with their budgets. They are seeing prices increasing and wages either staying the same or decreasing. I’m still feeling the squeeze. I work part-time but almost half my wage goes on childcare costs, which for me at the moment are about £350 a month.
“I have heard people say I would be financially better off not working but one of the main reasons I work is to be something other than a mum. I do it for the money but also for the social contact I get with other people, and I enjoy it.
“I have started to shop more frugally, buying vegetables from the local market and recycling where possible. Everyone is aware of rising prices, from petrol to energy bills. I have cut down on personal treats, I don’t go out on shopping sprees any more, the kids come first all the time in terms of food, clothing etc.
“I even swap things with other people, like curtains and I certainly think there are bargains to be had in some of the charity shops.”
The Asda Mumdex consists of a panel of over 5,500 mums of varying ages and backgrounds.
The report found that for over 70 per cent of non-working mums, going back to work wouldn’t make financial sense, as hefty childcare costs would leave them financially worse off.
Of mums who were able to go back to work after having children, two thirds say they don’t just work for the money, with 86 per cent saying they wanted to work to be a good role model for their children and a third saying they wanted to work to stimulate their minds.
Hayley Tatum, people director at Asda, said: “Our latest Mumdex reveals a worrying picture for mums across Britain. The majority of mums want to work to be more financially independent and demonstrate a strong work ethic for their kids, but for many the crippling cost of childcare is keeping them at home.
“It’s clear from our research that mums want access to cheaper childcare and better flexible working. More needs to be done by Government, schools, and employers to help nurture mums’ place in society.”
Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s right, said: “For seven in ten mums surveyed, sky high childcare costs mean work doesn’t pay. We urgently need to see more done to support parents in combining paid work with responsibilities in the home. More flexible working practices should become the norm, not the exception. “Having children should not mean mums are forced to give up paid work. Not only does this undermine women’s financial independence, it also means limiting their potential when it comes to contributing to the economic recovery.”
Matt Carmichael, a teacher at Roundhay School who also lectures in economics and is part of Schumacher North, an independent economic think tank and pressure group, said he was even more pessimistic about the future.
He said: “I have to be honest – I think things are likely to be worse than that by 2018 and I think even after that we are likely to see the economy moving from boom to bust. The problem we have is peak oil – that is the amount of oil we are able to produce per day, which has already peaked. It’s not about what is left in the ground, it’s just about how fast we can get it out and at the moment, we cannot do it fast enough. That is why you see companies turning to expensive extraction methods, like tar sand.
“Oil affects everything in our society and at the moment there is no real alternative for people. What we need is a massive investment in a new infrastructure based on renewable energy. That is the only way we can ever hope to move away from our dependence on oil and, consequently, our economy going from boom to bust.
“The problem is that whenever there is a recovery of sorts, then there is suddenly more demand for oil and that pushes the price up, which in turn puts us into another economic depression.
“In 2008, there were food riots in 38 countries around the world because people could not afford to buy basic food stuffs. This may not happen every year but I would predict we are likely to see more events like this.”
Rob Warm, from the National Housing Federation, said a lack of housing continued to put pressure on the rental market, adding he expected rents to double in some cases in Leeds in the next five years.
He said: “It is likely that rental levels will go up. Leeds already has some of the highest rents in the north of England but over the next five years we expect them to double in some cases. When you take into account the fact that utility bills are also going up and that wages are not likely to keep pace with these increases, it means people have limited choices in terms of where they live.
“This sort of thing has all kinds of knock-on effects for society. A recent survey found that a quarter of all people in Yorkshire with adult children still have one living at home, essentially because they cannot afford to move out. So, things like a lack of housing have a direct effect on people’s lives, because it stops them moving on with their lives, it means they start families later.
“What we would like to see is a long-term sustainable housing strategy for Leeds and at the moment we do not have that.”
Previously, the NHF has called on Leeds City Council to release large areas of ‘brownfield’ land to kick-start house building in the city. News that the NHF believes rents will further increase could mean that in some cases it will soon be more expensive to rent than to pay a mortgage.