A couple have offered to help a single mother out of her debts after she was forced into poverty over Christmas when her maternity pay was not processed by her employer.
Michaela Hughes was one of a number of women Sky News spoke to who are in debt, either being forced to borrow from lenders with astronomical interest rates or unable to pay their bills, as part of our New Lines series.
We spoke to her and other women in the deprived area of Birkenhead, Merseyside, either side of Christmas – one of the most costly periods of the year.
After hearing her story, Kelly and Chris Hugo got in touch offering to help Michaela get out of debt.
The couple, who are local business owners, say they are in a fortunate position now but both grew up with single mothers and know how hard it is.
They have offered Michaela, who has a 12-week-old baby and an 11-year-old son, training and a job at their company Govdata in Warrington, saying they can give her hours that work around her two children.
They’ve also offered to help Sandra, a former carer who spent Christmas in food and fuel poverty, and other families in crisis in Birkenhead.
“We were made aware of the issues faced by Michaela and the other ladies via your news article,” Kelly told Sky News.
“We were very touched by the women’s plight, as both Chris and I were raised by single mothers, who both worked to provide for us and struggled back then.”
They hope their actions can empower the women and build self-confidence.
Michaela, 32, spoke to Sky News on Monday, a few days after the publication of her story.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response from people getting in touch with me saying they’re in the same position,” she said, adding that many are working families and single mothers.
“I’ve worked hard for seven years for the same company,” said Michaela, who felt the company “just did not care when they messed up my maternity pay”.
“I felt like I couldn’t go back after what’s happened so to have a new job to go to is exciting. I’ve always wanted a career not just a job to give my kids a good life and now I can.”
The couple intend to work with job centres and community centres to help with employability skills, personality confidence and career planning.
Kelly and Chris are also on a mission to help make the Neo Community Centre, featured in Sky News’ coverage, self-sustainable.
They said: “We understand so many people out there want to work and show their children that they can be anything they want in this life with hard work.”
The community cafe, a third sector organisation which often works with working families to help offer food, fuel vouchers, warmth and support, has also received almost £1,000 in donations on its GoFundMe page since the Sky News report.
The donations mean the centre can now offer food and activities for free at Beaconsfield Community house during February half term, along with taking on a play worker for another community centre and buying two pallets of cleaning and toiletry supplies.
Ema Wilkes, founder of Neo Community Centre, told Sky News that Birkenhead, like many other parts of the country, has problems but a strong community and charity sector is connecting people and supporting them.
“Highlighting the stories in this way is immensely brave for the individuals but it is also so inspiring to see the response and offers of support given to the individuals and [about the] wider issues,” she said.
She urged people to come together and work for change, such as checking on neighbours and not being ashamed to admit if you’re struggling.
The crowd-funded money has been earmarked by the centre to help the women in our story, as well as other families in crisis, but is not a solution to the issue.
“What we need is for people to unite and back and support campaigns and lobby for change,” Mrs Wilkes said, adding that: “So much of the population are sadly struggling and more and more working people are trying so hard to pay for everything”.
Analysis commissioned by Sky News found the poorest 10% of households in the UK get into debt to finance their day-to-day living.
Households experiencing poverty, who often don’t have access to affordable credit, spend 34% of their gross income on debt repayments, compared to just 8% for average households.
Of those, a third are already struggling to keep up with debt repayments.
(c) Sky News 2019: Couple offer lifeline to single mother after Sky News story