I’m Skipping Meals Because Of The Cost Of Living Crisis

Photographed by Anna Jay
Young women all over the UK are feeling the impact of the cost of living crisis we so often hear broadcast on the news. In a recent report by Young Women’s Trust, 52% of the young women surveyed said they were "filled with dread" when thinking about their household finances. These aren’t women who are disappointed at having to give up their holidays abroad or their Netflix subscriptions. These are women struggling to make ends meet.
A large percentage of young people now say they have been going to bed hungry. A new poll from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint found that food insecurity is having a devastating impact on 16 to 25-year-olds across the UK, with 49% of young people being forced to go to bed hungry in the last 12 months. Just under a third of young people cited bills as one of the main reasons for skipping meals. For those who were still managing to eat three square meals a day, many said they struggled to eat healthy, nutritious foods.
"Young women are really at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis because they were already closer to the financial cliff edge to start with," said Claire Reindorp, chief executive of Young Women’s Trust. "The research is telling us that women are taking on more debt, going without meals so their children can eat, and struggling to make their cash last 'til the end of the month. All this causes intense fear, dread and anxiety. And as well as the immediate struggles just to get by, they’re worried about their futures. Young women are saying things like they’re feeling 'stuck in the mud', unable to take chances, grow and learn because they’re spending all their energy on just surviving."
Emily Manning has been working since she was 16, hoping to be able to afford the life she wanted as a young adult. She was offered admission to several universities but decided to take on a low-paid apprenticeship with Santander so she could jump right onto a career ladder. After four years of working for Santander she became disillusioned with the company and applied for a job with the NHS as a junior awards analyst. She has been working there for a little over a month now and is trying desperately to cope with the rising cost of living.
"I feel helpless – like I’m stuck," said Emily. Her dad recently asked her to move out of his house, agreeing to support her with the rent. "It’s not a nice flat [where I live now]," she said. "It has mould and water damage, and the landlord has refused to even paint over it. I don’t want to live here but I don’t have a choice. I’m essentially reliant on my dad to live and I don’t like that."
Emily has worked out her budget and found that despite her healthy salary from the NHS, she will still be lacking £430 per month after paying for rent, food, bills, fuel and her car. "That’s with no pub trip or even money to get a coffee," the 21-year-old said.

I need a walking stick and wheelchair just so I can get out and not be stuck in the flat. But I can't afford to buy them. I've actually put a wheelchair on my birthday wish list.

To add fuel to the fire, Emily struggles with a crippling connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and experiences chronic pain throughout her body on a daily basis. "I need money to buy a walking stick and wheelchair at the moment just so I can get out and not be stuck in the flat," she said. "But I can’t afford to buy them. I’ve actually put a wheelchair on my birthday wish list."
When it comes to food, Emily spends as little as possible on herself. "I use Too Good To Go and always shop in the reduced section," she said. "I try to eat healthily but healthy foods are more expensive and I just can’t afford them. Additionally, with my mobility problems, cooking takes a lot of energy that I need for other things like working so I often just grab whatever I’ve got in around the house, like a bread roll."
With her birthday coming up, Emily intends to ask family for money. "I don’t get many presents but there are a couple people in my family who would get me something," she said. "I’m going to ask for £20 so I can go to the pub with friends and get a haircut. I also really need a hoover but can’t afford to buy it for myself so will probably ask for that too. All I want are basic necessities."
Universities have seen an increase in students who are struggling with their mental health as a result of financial pressures. In the current academic year, 305 out of 484 applications to the University of Reading's hardship fund have been successful. This is compared to 156 applications in 2018-19.
"There is a lot of anxiety about being able to afford things," said Matt Daley, the university’s head of student financial support, in an interview. "My main concern is that students won’t complete their studies. We don’t want them to leave because of money."
A spokesperson from the Department for Education has said that no student should have to worry about their financial situation while they are studying but the fact is they are.
Niamh* is currently studying international tourism management at University College Birmingham while living at home with her dad. "I’m commuting in even though it takes over an hour to get there each way," the 20-year-old said. "I pay for my food, car and medication but go halves on the bills with my dad. One example of how the cost of living is affecting me is that I’m now having to consider selling my car as I can’t afford to run it with petrol prices increasing."

Growing up, I had always hoped my womanhood would be better than my childhood and I'm trying to do everything in my power for it to be good. But as prices rise, I lose hope by the day and can see no way out.

Niamh, 20
With Niamh living far away from the university campus, her car is the only way she makes it to any social events. "I’m alone most of the time, living in a country town, and don’t have many transport options," she said. "I was also looking forward to doing a few months studying abroad next year via an exchange programme at my university but I added up the costs and it would just be too expensive for me, which makes me feel like I'm missing out on the university experience even more. It's upsetting watching other people get to have these experiences just because they are less impacted by the cost of living, and [it] highlights the difference between us."
Niamh is starting to feel like she could use money more than a degree and is considering dropping out of university to get a job. "It’s a hard decision to make because I’m also told a degree will open up more opportunities to earn more money, but that isn’t guaranteed either."
To compensate for staying in university, Niamh is cutting down in other ways. "I've had to go to extreme lengths and skip lunch," she said. "I've tried all the tips such as meal prepping and couponing, and although they have helped a bit, the rising cost of living means it doesn't make too much of a difference."
Instead of looking at her future with hope, Niamh gazes ahead with a sense of fear. "I feel like there's no hope for my future and I'm scared to think about where I will be in a few years," she admitted. "Growing up, I had always hoped my womanhood would be better than my childhood and I'm trying to do everything in my power for it to be good. But as prices rise, I lose hope by the day and can see no way out. It feels like a never-ending cycle I won't escape and I often feel like there's no point in living if life will always be like this."
Even more so than young men, women are struggling to survive. "There was already an income gap between young women and young men – on average young women take home around a fifth (22%) less," explained Reindorp. "This is because young women are more likely to be doing unpaid caring work, like caring for children or younger siblings. So they’re more likely to be in part-time jobs, not able to get enough hours or to progress – or indeed not working at all."
The Young Women’s Trust survey, which included a sample of over 4,000 women, also showed that young women are still being discriminated against in the workplace, stopping them getting the jobs they want, being paid the same as young men for the same work or getting the promotions and pay rises they should. "It showed that 42% of young women had been discriminated against and one in 10 HR decision-makers think men make better senior managers than women," Reindorp said. "The impact of all this is that young women already had more limited resources. And that’s why we’re now seeing so many young women filled with dread at the state of their finances and struggling to make ends meet."
If you are a young woman looking for support during these uncertain times, feel free to get in touch with Young Women’s Trust. They offer free coaching and CV feedback to get women into work and build confidence. If you are struggling with finances, you can contact Citizen’s Advice for financial support. Finally, if you want to add your voice to campaigns advocating for young women, please visit the Young Women’s Trust website to find out how you can get involved.
*Name has been changed

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