‘Central heating or my daughter’s education – which is more important?’ asks single mother from Cardiff

A single mother of a 12-year-old from Cardiff says more help is needed for low-income families with the extra costs of home schooling in lockdown.

Sharon Mya says she faces tough choices between heating and her daughter’s online learning.

“Is it education, heating, bills? We’re all not rich, there may be some parents who don’t notice this thing, but as a single parent, I notice it, and it’s really bad,” she said.

Sharon says that there has been a £9 increase in her quarterly electricity bills since her daughter’s been learning from home.

“I’ve got to pay for WiFi, charging the chromebook my daughter has had from school costs a lot, and resources like food for different lessons.”

This week, Barnardo’s Wales charity have launched a new campaign called Children in Crisis in addition to their emergency appeal at the start of the pandemic.

“We launched an emergency appeal at the start of the pandemic and that money has been spent on supporting families across Wales. We have supplied everything from food vouchers to phones and tablets plus internet access to help children with online learning.

“In the last few days, we have launched a second appeal, Children in Crisis, because of the increasing demand from families struggling financially through the pandemic. The money we raise will provide help for families struggling with their heating costs, food and access to online learning.”

Someone who has witnessed this increased need for support is Rhydian Lloyd, headteacher at Ysgol Gwaun y Nant in Barry.

“As a headteacher at a school whose vast majority of its catchment area is economically and socially deprived, these lockdowns have been a huge concern and could potentially have a devastating effect on many families,” he said.

In response to this, Ysgol Gwaun y Nant teamed up with a nearby school, Oak Field Primary School in Barry, and food charity FareShare Cymru to establish a food bank.

The ‘Big Bocs Bwyd’ Foodbank at Ysgol Gwaun y Nant, Barry.

“During the first lockdown we identified that many families were hit harder, struggling to put food on the table. So, we’ve set up the Big Bocs Bwyd which is set up on our car park, run by volunteers,” said Mr Lloyd.

“There’s been a big footfall there. So, the lockdown is having an effect, and people do need that support.”

However, he also noted that the Welsh Government’s provision of IT devices like laptops and Chromebooks since the beginning of the pandemic needs to be praised.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “More than 130,000 devices have been provided since the beginning of the pandemic, with a remaining 54,000 devices expected over the coming weeks and months.”

“Our approach and response was praised in a recent independent report that said Wales had ‘led the way’ in providing IT and online learning to pupils at home throughout pandemic.

“We understand how difficult it is for parents who are trying to juggle home schooling and their own work pressures. Parents and carers should speak to their child’s school if they’re concerned or need help.”

So, for parents in Wales like Sharon Mya whose children are over the age of seven and will not be returning to school next Monday, the question about any financial support remains unanswered.