SINGLE mum-of-seven Kay Gilbert, 40, was forced into hundreds of pounds of debt each month just so she can afford her children's school dinners, but even so, she refuses to go on benefits.
Kay, an office worker from Bedford, is proud she has always worked but now said the cost of living crisis has forced her to go without meals just so her kids have a normal school lunch like their mates.
Looking at the online school dinner bill for the month my heart sank. I owed £260 from last term and £340 so far this month – £600 all-in and it was only rising.
Wracked with guilt and fear, I burst into tears. I didn’t know how I’d find the money to feed my seven kids.
I am mum to two adult daughters, 24 and 21, plus Reon, 16, Shanai, 12, Nylah, nine, Tiana, eight, and Carlisle, 11 months.
My children are my world, and their £3.30-£3.80 school lunches are part of their daily school life.
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Almost every child in Britain enjoys filing into the canteen with their mates and having a hot meal.
My kids look forward to roast dinner on Wednesday and fish and chips on Friday. They love guessing what pudding will be on the menu too.
But like many working parents who don’t qualify for free school lunches, Universal Credit or don’t want to give up work and claim benefits I am faced with a mountain of debt.
I’m facing a gut-wrenching choice: what basic essentials do I go without so my kids can have a school lunch.
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I’m now starving myself and not eating lunch on a daily basis, so my kids can eat at school and it’s something mum and dads like me never saw coming.
I’m living in poverty thanks to school dinners and I will do anything to ensure my kids don’t miss out.
In 2022 it's a travesty that a parent should be forced to skip meals, turn to ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes and go into debt so their children can have a hot school meal.
The rising cost of living and the crippling energy price hikes are forcing proud working parents like me all over Britain to consider giving up work and claiming benefits or going without themselves, just to pay a school dinner bill.
Working parents who don't get the support offered to mums and dads who have free school lunches provided are the hardest hit in the current crisis.
People assume because we work, we can afford to pay. We can’t and all I want is for it to be a little bit easier. I feel like a failure and terrified about what will happen in the next six months.
I have always worked and am proud of my ability to juggle seven children, a rented home and hold down a full-time job. It hasn't been easy but it’s important I set an example for my children. Some people will tell me I’d end up with more cash on benefits, but I won’t do that.
I want to show my kids you can work and pay your bills. Working full-time and raising my children has meant I have always set strict budgets and stuck to them.
I have always been able to budget for school dinners and have never been in debt. All that changed last year when I went on statutory maternity leave and received £600 a month .
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I factored in the £340 it cost for school lunches but like thousands of others I didn’t have much wiggle room in my budget.
The crippling cost of living increase hit like a bolt out of the blue. It meant the spare cash I had in my budget for school dinners had to be used for weekly groceries, petrol, gas and electric costs.
By November last year I was skipping meals and being forced to use credit cards so I could pay for the school dinners.
The last four months have been the worst. I had to go into debt on the school dinner payment site.
The cost of groceries skyrocketed, the cost of uniforms went through the roof and I knew there was no end in sight to having to borrow, beg and plead for cash to make ends meet. It is a working parent’s worst nightmare.
I’ve had to juggle credit cards, family loans and use buy now, pay later schemes for anything else I need including the kids’ uniforms, school bags, shoes, even pens and paper.
In the past I’d never used loans or credit cards and avoided the buy now, pay later schemes. But it’s the only option now if my kids are to enjoy a hot school lunch with their mates.
Now I am begging and pleading to be able to make the payments for all my debt on a weekly basis. I’m now back at work but any hope of getting on top of what I still owe for school dinners is gone.
As a working mum knowing the kids have had a meal at lunchtime takes a little pressure off after work because we can eat more simply if we need to.
There are so many other working families and mums like me embarrassed about this situation. People will likely say ‘well see your kids to school with packed lunches’. I have four at school and each has different tastes.
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Pack lunches can be as expensive as school dinners. I don't want my kids to have to change from something they have been used to all their school lives. I shouldn't have to sacrifice my kids' school lunches.
It’s why I am skipping meals and starving myself so my kids can eat at school. I know we can’t agree on much but surely ensuring all our kids have a healthy school dinner is something everyone can support.
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