Tory minister Rachel Maclean sparked fury yesterday in an interview about a car crash where she suggested Britons struggling for money should work longer hours or get better-paying jobs.
As the cost of living continues to rise, putting more pressure on ordinary people to pay the bills, sentiments of “deafening” have been criticized by Britons and the opposition party.
Speaking to Sky News, she said: ‘I think what we need to focus on now is the long term.
“We are under these short-term pressures that we are all aware of. But in the long term, we need to have a plan to grow the economy and make sure people are able to protect themselves better, whether that’s by taking more hours or getting better-paying jobs.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman waded down the row, adding the Home Secretary was clear “people’s circumstances may vary”.
Despite the Prime Minister’s backing, the comments from the MP – who wins a combined salary of £106,000 – were described as ‘out of touch’ by some.
We spoke to three people who are already working three jobs to earn enough money to get by.
Kate Worboy and her partner Charlie Skudder live in Bideford, Devon
Kate Worby/DEVON LIVE/BPM MEDIA)
Kate, 29, has three jobs – a children’s entertainer for her own company, Magical Guests, a caregiver and a cleaner; Charlie, also 29, is a full-time university student, runs a valet business and worked nights as a carer at a local care home until it recently closed. They have three children Alice, eight; Oliver, four and Edward, one. Kate thinks Tory Minister Rachel Maclean is completely out of touch.
“It’s just a ridiculous thing to say for her – for us to work more hours. There’s no understanding of what our reality is. I don’t know how many more hours I can work without harming my mental health. Everyone deserves a work-life balance – not just the wealthy.
“I don’t believe that more documents are the answer. Low-income parents need more help with childcare. I want to work. Minimum wage is around £10 an hour and childcare in my area is around £4 an hour – per child. I would be at a loss going to work – that’s the reality.
“This is just the latest example of how this government has no idea about the reality of people’s lives. There was also an MP talking about how much cheaper it was to cook a meal from scratch. It’s not. It’s much easier and cheaper to throw nuggets and oven fries when you have a low income. Have they seen the price of vegetables compared to a bag of crisps?
“It’s crazy how they expect low-income families to get by. They have no understanding.
Kate believes that in addition to helping with childcare, more needs to be done to ensure affordable housing.
She says: “There needs to be a cap on rentals that would really help with the cost of living. Owners make private rental so expensive. Rent is our biggest expense. It’s costing us £1,000 a month just to have a roof over our heads – and considering the income we’re getting, that’s just too much.
Kate adds: ‘I work 20 hours a week with a carer for a family three days a week and also clean for holiday homes whenever they need around four hours a week. They are both zero-hour contracts. I am very lucky to be able to bring my beloved little Edwards to both jobs. My main job is my business, Magical Guest – where me and Charlie dress up as characters – princesses and superheroes. It’s about 24 hours a day.
“Last Christmas we really noticed the prices going up, so we started to really cut back on all the food we didn’t really need – snacks, cookies, crisps. Luckily the children get free school meals, so I know they will have at least one hot meal a day. In the evening, if I don’t have enough food for a big meal, they will have fruit, cheese and crackers.
“We have completely reduced meat consumption – I can’t justify the cost, so we have a lot of vegetables instead in the meals.
“We don’t have cakes, but I’ll make treats like cornflakes and crispy rice cakes.
“I want to create a strong future for my family, and we’re doing our best, but it’s frustrating. We’re not asking for handouts – we’re one family among many. We just don’t know what to do. We were completely unprepared for this cost of living crisis.
“Things are not going well and there are shortcomings that need to be corrected, but not as Minister Maclean suggests.
Andy Nicholls, 42, lives with his parents in Manchester and has three jobs
He is a full-time educator, works part-time in a hotel and also as a TV extra. He works more than 60 hours a week.
“The Minister’s comments are truly unfair. It doesn’t take into account everyone’s situation. I can’t work more hours than I already do. The money is coming in but I have no security – it’s scary how much more everything costs. I’m as scared as the next person of what will happen next. There is so much uncertainty in the world.
“I get up around 5 a.m. every day. I arrive at the Premier Inn in Bolton at 6:15 a.m. and am on duty until 10:30 a.m. Then I have two hours to get home, have a late breakfast from Weetabix, and am again on the road to my main job as a youth worker in Wigan. I’m there until 9 p.m. then I go home for 10 p.m. – and I go to bed!
Andy had hoped to move out of his parents’ house this year and have enough money to put down a deposit for a property, but due to rising costs he had to find a third job.
“Bills and food costs have gone up massively, so I’m giving my parents more money — to help cover the increase and take in more hours at work,” he says.
“I also got a third job – as an extra for a production company. It’s usually about three days of solid work every month, and I take time off from my other two jobs to do it.
“I work so hard, and it’s a struggle – so it really worries me how I would pay a mortgage and pay all my gas, electric and water bill? Everything just goes up and I really don’t know how families – who don’t earn as much as I do – survive.
“I didn’t want to live at home in my 40s. I work all those hours to have a chance of future safety. I have no social life and I know it has really affected my mental health, but I don’t think I have a choice if I don’t want to suffer later.
Single mother Ema Howling, 50, lives in a flat in north-west London with her seven-year-old son Haze
Ema juggles three jobs – as a nanny, community group worker and cafe assistant and is on Universal Credit.
“It shows how out of touch she is, especially considering single parents. In my pub job the hourly rate is £8.71 and childcare in London is £7.50.
Along with two part-time jobs – nanny and working in a cafe, Emma started looking for a third job in March.
“I’ve been working with a community group for a little over a month now,” she says. “If I work more hours, I would be worse off financially.”
“As a single mother, it has never been easy financially, but the past few months have been very difficult. Before, I worked ten hours a week, depending on my son’s school hours. Everything goes up and up. Every day I try to find ways to cut costs where I can.
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“As I still claim Universal Credit, I can also visit my local food bank once a month – that’s a godsend.
“We used to have a candy and snack cupboard at home, but now I can’t afford that. I have now switched to own brands from all supermarkets for everything.
“Last year, my once-a-week treat for Haze was a trip to the movies and some popcorn.
“Instead, we watch a movie at home with a bag of Aldi-branded Wotsits. It’s always a treat for him. I’m lucky he understands what Mom can and can’t afford anymore.
Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, the single parent charity: said: “We are experiencing the biggest cost of living shock since the 1970s.
“Housing, food and fuel are significant costs for any household, but for single parents they are enormous. Many single parents take on multiple jobs to try to make ends meet, but the reality is that ‘they can’t juggle or change parents as parents in a couple.They don’t have the ability or the practical or financial flexibility to do so.Unfortunately, evidence shows that working longer hours increases the risk of going into debt , and this is mainly due to the cost of childcare.
“It is clear that the cost of living crisis is already having a devastating impact on people across the UK and causing hunger, hardship and mental anguish to too many single parent families. This Government must put in place any urgently targeted support for people on low incomes, otherwise the stark reality is that more single parents and their children will be forced to live in poverty and suffer the disadvantages that entails.