Background Families with young children, and lone parent families in particular, are at greater risk of poverty and food insecurity, compared to other UK population groups. Tackling child poverty has been a key Scottish Government policy since the introduction of the Child Poverty Act (2017) in which local authorities and health boards are required to report on their Local Child Poverty Action Plans. In north east Scotland little formal research had focussed on the lived experiences of parents and parents of infants and young children in relation to the challenges they face parenting on very low incomes, and, on questions about income maximisation strategies to alleviate child poverty. This paper focuses on some key findings of a study undertaken to address this knowledge gap in Grampian in 2020.
Methods Parents with young children supported by an Aberdeen City-based poverty alleviation social enterprise were invited to take part in an interview study. One-to-one semi-structured telephone interviews lasting between 30–40 minutes took place during July and August 2020. Interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed.
Results Ten women took part; two participants lived with partners. Eight participants were unemployed and two worked part-time. Each had between one and five child(ren), and all had one child under school-age. Five key impactthemes emerged, i. limited participation in paid employment; ii. insufficient social security income; iii. household food insecurity experiences; iv. practical and emotional challenges and anxiety associated with their children’s overall development; and v. anxieties related to treats and special occasions. Four coping strategy themes were also revealed, i.e. i. budgeting and bill prioritisation; ii. self-sacrifice; iii. relying on others, and iv. keeping up appearances. Food coping strategies were explored in more depth, and two broad themes emerged: acquisition methods and management techniques.
Discussion Parents with young children experience significant barriers accessing paid employment due to caring responsibilities. Consequently, generating sufficient household income from alternate income sources, such as social security, is problematic. Parents reported devoting significant emotional and physical energy to dealing with the challenges of raising children in poverty, and it was notable that participants employed a range of sophisticated coping strategies and skill to make ends meet and maximise food resources, within highly constrained budgets. This research challenges notions that budgeting education initiatives have much to offer low income parents already well-versed on this issue. Strategies to increase their incomes seem a more effective way of alleviating their related anxieties.
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