A low-paid worker

Renée is 40 and works long hours for low pay to try to provide for her four children, aged 3 to 14, and her 80-year-old mother. The three generations of the family share a damp and overcrowded three-bedroom council flat in Hackney, in inner London.

Meet Renée and family in the following three videos recorded in February 2012. Scroll to the bottom of the page for updates.


© 2012. All films are the copyright of the PSE: UK project and must not be reproduced, posted or downloaded. The films were produced for The Open University by Angel Eye Media; filmed and directed by Gabi Kent and researched by Laurel Jagroo.

… by the time the rent, the council tax have been paid, we’re left with little to nothing, we’re living below the breadline

Renée (low-paid worker, London)

Renée works as a mental health support worker in the NHS. Her hourly rate is just above the minimum wage and, although she takes as much overtime and night shift work as she can to increase her earnings, the family still struggle to get by. The family rarely gets to spend much time together – they haven’t been on a day out for three years due to lack of time and money. Renée is in arrears on her rent and other bills, and is fearful of the government’s impending changes to tax and benefits.

With her youngest daughter three years old and her youngest son eight, Renée’s long working hours mean that she has very high childcare costs. London has the highest childcare costs in the country. Renée spends £115.80 a week to keep her three-year-old daughter, Zennisha, in nursery, compared to a national average of £96 a week. She also pays £32.50 a week in after-school care for her 8-year-old son, Tyrone. 

Renée’s 80-year-old mother, Edith, has poor eyesight and trouble walking long distances, so she now lives with her daughter. Edith helps as much as she can with the childcare, and without her help Renée would struggle even more.

The family live in a three-bedroom council flat on a Hackney estate. There is severe damp in the flat and one of the bedrooms in uninhabitable. The family is forced to share not just bedrooms but also beds. Edith shares a bed with her grandson, Tyrone, and Renée and her two daughters share a bed. The family can’t afford to move into better housing and the council have told them they are adequately housed.


Working families and the benefit changes

Nearly all working families on low incomes, both single parents and couples, will be affected by the government’s tax and benefit changes. While some will gain from the rise in the personal tax allowance, losses will arise from benefit changes, most significantly:

  • a three-year freezing of child benefit
  • adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index
  • the faster withdrawal rate in tax credit as incomes rise
  • a reduction in the levels of the childcare component of working tax credit
  • making couples with children work at least 24 hours a week between them instead of the current 16 hours a week minimum
  • the capping of housing benefit for private tenants.

Universal Credit, which is due to replace tax credits and most benefits from 2013, will hit poorer working mothers the hardest, according to a report by the charity Save the Children (see Welfare reforms could push 250,000 children deeper into poverty).

UPDATE: March 2013

Renée and her family featured in the ITV 'Tonight' special on 'Breadline Britain' broadcast on March 28, 2013.

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