Pandemic Pressures

Why families on a low income are spending more during Covid-19

This note explores why so many low-income families report spending more, not less, since Covid-19 gripped the nation in spring 2020. It brings together the findings from two online surveys of a representative sample of working-age adults in the UK fielded by the Resolution Foundation in May and September 2020, and a number of vivid accounts from parents and carers themselves, drawn from the ongoing ‘Covid Realities’ participatory research programme.

Families on low incomes are adept at managing on a limited budget, often finding creative, if time-intensive, ways to get by. When the pandemic hit, however, many of these strategies for navigating life on a low income became difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. At the same time, school closures, social distancing and other Covid-related disruptions have led to increased core costs for many families.

The evidence presented in this note shines an unforgiving light on the absence of targeted, adequate support for families on a low income, who today face the combined insecurity of Covid-19 and increased financial pressure. Moreover, it underlines the importance of understanding the differential experiences of the pandemic.