The cost-of-living crisis has seen people who previously had to choose between heating and buying enough food now struggle to do either. For families like Bella’s, where neither parent can work, it can be especially tough.
Bella looks after her two younger brothers and is a young carer to her mum who suffers from non-epileptic attack disorder – a life-threatening condition that can cause dangerously low oxygen saturation.
17-year-old Bella says, “As soon as my mum couldn’t work due to her health conditions, my dad had to quit his job to become her full-time carer. I step in and provide care for my mum whenever my dad cannot, like when he needs to pick up my youngest brother from school. I make sure my mum doesn’t get injured if she has a seizure and care for her to the best of my abilities. I help her to get dressed and take her to the toilet as she has difficulties with mobility.”
She was referred to Barnardo's Lancashire Young Carers service in November 2020 by the NHS. The service, which is commissioned by Lancashire County Council, has helped Bella and her family in many ways from providing support towards the cost of clothing, food, and children’s items to giving her the opportunity to learn vital life skills.
“It was only when I was referred to Lancashire Young Carers that I realised I was a young carer and would be able to get support. It was never explained to me previously by doctors or teachers, so I just thought this was a normal part of life,” Bella says.
Bella, a young person supported by Barnardo's
The impacts of the cost-of-living crisis
The cost-of-living crisis has seen people who previously had to choose between heating and buying enough food now struggle to do either. For families like Bella’s, where neither parent can work, it can be especially tough. Over half of Barnardo’s practitioners have given children and families clothing or signposted to somewhere they could get these items in the last year.
“I try to stay as warm as I can without increasing household costs by turning on the heating, but I need to keep my bedroom window open due to black mould. My parents have repeatedly mentioned the problem to the landlord, but it’s still unresolved,” she says.
“I've been charging my phone and laptop at college to save electricity and not having my light on in my room. It feels strange that young people growing up in the UK today are having to do this. I’ve been thinking of getting a job, but my parents want me to focus on college. It’s the clash of do I get a job to help support my family, or if I do that, will that decrease their benefits and make things even more financially difficult for them?”
Bella’s mum wears a lifeline neck cord, connected to a company that can call an ambulance if necessary. This service was free at first but now costs the family a monthly fee, further impacting the affordability of their bills.
“It seems like everything has gone up in cost, even aspects of my mum’s healthcare which used to be free. I’m studying health and social care at college and eventually want to work in mental health services because I know the difference that good mental health support can make to the lives of vulnerable people,” Bella explains.
“The Government should ensure people who have disabilities who can’t work have a better chance of getting help and give additional support and information to people who are carers. They specifically need to make it easier for young carers to be identified and introduce a nationally recognised ID scheme so healthcare professionals such as pharmacists understand why a young carer would want to collect items like prescriptions on behalf of a parent.
“The allowance the Government provides to full-time carers like my dad has also never been enough. As a family, we used to be able to ‘get by’ most of the time, but the increased cost of living has made this really challenging. Even before the energy bills started soaring, we were already cutting back on food and trying to spend as little money as possible.”
Bella’s dad tries to cook healthy homemade meals, but now that some foods like oil and vegetables are so expensive, the family increasingly have had to rely on cheaper ready meals instead.
“Winter can be a hard time for young carers like me, but the support Barnardo’s has given my family in the past, with items such as food and clothing vouchers, meant we’ve been able to save money," Bella says.
Life-changing and life-saving support
“The support I receive from the Lancashire Young Carers service has also helped with my mental health and education. Through Barnardo’s, I have been able to learn photography and cooking skills, go on trips to the local theatre, and access courses and resources from the University of Central Lancashire.
“Barnardo’s also provided me with the opportunity to undertake a first aid course. My mum’s heart has stopped on two occasions after having seizures which has increased my caring responsibilities quite a bit. The second time it happened was when we were on our way to Blackpool Pride in June 2022.
“Mum collapsed and went into a seizure; someone went to check her pulse, but she wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a heartbeat. I immediately started CPR and continued until my dad took over and until the paramedics were then able to. We essentially saved her life and she’s now a lot better. This was just a few weeks after I had completed the first aid course which Barnardo’s had arranged,” she says.
In recognition of her incredible actions, Bella is due to be presented with a lifesaving award from the North West Ambulance service and has also received an award from the police commissioner for Lancashire. Even though what she achieved was remarkable, she remains modest about her heroism and continues to think of helping other people.
“Barnardo’s gave me the opportunity to learn first aid and CPR which proved to be vital for my mum. It’s a good example of how Barnardo’s helps children in so many ways. If a child or young person doesn’t have to worry about their next meal or keeping warm, it means they can be happier and focus instead on their future.”