I currently feel trapped. Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Before I started my degree back in October, I spoke to many different people (mainly in Student Finance) who all advised me that the childcare support I received would not be means tested. I applied to student finance and was told I would receive an adequate amount of support. Admitedly, it turned out that childcare is means tested and that they would only help with 10% of our childcare bill based on my husband's salary, but it was better than nothing. Fast forward two months and I received a letter saying that I was no longer entitled to any help with childcare, and my student grants decreased by £2000.
Now, our childcare is not extortionate, but with two children under three, we are paying as much as we ever will. Our average childcare per month is £800. When you compare this with our mortgage of £586, you realise the problem. We are not an extravagant family. Our clothes are either hand-me-downs, from ebay or charity shops. I scrimp and save wherever I can.
My main bugbear, and what we really struggle with, is our travel costs. My husband works in Manchester, a three hour round trip daily. I travel to Lancaster to University, a round trip of two hours each day I go in (three days a week). This amounts to £628 in travel costs a month (again, more than our mortgage). Something that Student Finance will not take into account.
Whilst we appear to be well off on paper, when you take our monthly travel into account, we are left in our overdraft before we have even thought about feeding a family of four. Our main expenses are childcare, travel (to and from Uni/work) and our mortgage. These alone add up to £2014 per month. My husband earns less than this a month. I haven't added any bills, council tax or food into this equation.
So, you see my predicament. If I stay at University, I hopefully get a good degree and an equally good salary. This isn't guaranteed of course. But also, in addition to my student debt, I get a rather large overdraft debt. Ultimately, is it all worth it?
I'm sure some of you are questioning why I don't get a holiday or weekend job. Well, the answer is simple. I am on a career break from my job in the NHS. One of the terms of this career break is that I cannot work at all during the break, not even in my old role. I could just quit and get a job, but then I have to pay back my maternity pay because my career break started as my maternity leave ended, which I can't afford to do.
So, here is my tale of the rock and the hard place. I'm firmly wedged between the two and it's painful. I worry that I'm not doing the right thing, that my family are suffering and it's all my fault.
I hope that this hasn't come across as a rant or a tale of woe. I don't want sympathy. We chose this situation. Admittedly we chose the situation when we were under the impression that we would receive help with our childcare costs. Our childminder is increasing her fees from April, so we will be even more strapped for cash, although student finance will not assess this increase until August!
I want the government to be made aware of the fact that hard working families are being hit hard by their cuts. We want to work and better ourselves but it is increasingly difficult. With fuel prices rising, I honestly do not know how much longer we can keep up the pretence of managing. I am studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics, with a view to possibly becoming an MP one day. I only hope I listen to the people, not the ones who shout the loudest, but the ones who really matter.