Breadline Voices: Mum struggling with bills spends hours shopping for bargains

Shopping basket

Irene [not her real name] is a 41 year-old single mother from Liverpool, with a nine year-old daughter recently diagnosed with autism. She has a degree in English and Linguistics and has more recently taken on a second degree in nutrition. She is in the Catch-22 situation of being unable to work full-time and care for her child.

"We’re being told inflation is at 9% or 10% but when you look at the prices of individual food items they have actually gone up by 25% or more!

"I am too scared to look at the receipts but a friend of mine with a son the same age as my daughter says her average food bill has doubled from about £20 to £40. I just buy what we need.

"I spend a lot of time volunteering for various community schemes and I mostly walk everywhere. I spend hours shopping around for bargains on things like tinned tomatoes, pasta or potatoes.

"I have just found some carrots for 13p a kilo, a big bag of pasta for 29p and 2.5 kilos of potatoes for £1, so I’m feeling quite pleased.  

"I’ve stopped buying things like cream cheese or cottage cheese, tortilla, mozzarella, and I stick to plain yoghourt instead because it’s cheaper. If I see the price of something has gone up I just don’t buy it for a while.

"I got a chicken recently for £1.76. It was the first chicken I had bought for years so we made it last. I portioned it and froze half. My oven is broken but I managed to cook it on the hob, and I also have a microwave so we just about manage. 

"My dad was a doctor and I am well qualified. I know what a good diet is. My daughter gets Free School Meals but I was really shocked when she started school at the terrible quality of the food.

"I heard the allowance for food is under £1 per meal per pupil, but what the school gives her has destroyed her taste for natural or normal food.

"They give them things like chicken nuggets as a chicken wrap or hot dogs with chips and salad in theory but my daughter keeps saying there is no veg.

"Sometimes they get cheese and chorizo pizza with potato wedges and baked beans. Even when there’s a simple dish such as a roast there’s too much gravy poured on it – kitchen staff’s habit that could easily be changed.

"In the past I would occasionally buy fish fillets but now she won’t eat fish unless it has a thick coating of stuff on it. I’ve looked at the school food standards document but it’s actually quite vague about what is required. 

"A big problem is that at breakfast clubs, after school clubs and even at services which provide other support to children, the ‘food’ that's offered is not the food that’s needed in the long run.

"I feel there is a misunderstanding of how to deal with hunger cheaply and healthily, and it is possible to do that. 

"She is now definitely a bit heavier than she used to be. I’m worried that we’re seeing younger and younger people being diagnosed with type two diabetes, but often they have had it for 10 years before it’s discovered, which means they have already suffered a lot of damage. 

"It’s all very worrying."

This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.

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