Long-term illness as a barrier to work: Paul and Fiona's story

Thursday 23 February 2023
Mother and daughter walking outside council flat (flipped and cropped) 940x636px

Both Paul and Fiona have long-term health conditions which means they can’t work and are forced to live entirely on benefits.

Paul and Fiona have been married for four and a half years and have two daughters, Sophie, aged 10, and 5-year-old Emily.

Before ill health prevented them from working, Paul had his own local theatre company, alongside working at a fast-food restaurant, and Fiona was an area manager for a coffee company.

“As mundane as some people might think it is to work at McDonald's, I used to really enjoy it. I loved my theatre work too because acting is a passion of mine. I still haven’t lost all hope that I could return to working at some point in the future,” says Paul.

Support from Action for Children

Their youngest daughter Emily is on the Autism spectrum. Paul and Fiona have received support with her situation from their local Action for Children children’s centre, and taken part in Incredible Years and Solihull Approach parenting courses.

Paul and Fiona say they learned so much from the sessions.

The courses and the help from Action for Children have been invaluable for all of us. It was wonderful to meet other people in the same situation and realise that we were not on our own.

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Cost of living crisis

Living entirely on benefits is a real struggle, says Paul, but thanks to Fiona’s great budgeting skills they “just about manage.”

The cost-of-living crisis though is causing much anxiety in their household.

“The food bills keep rising, and that's frightening for us as we have to budget down to the last penny,” said Paul. “We have no alternative but to try and deal with it, so it means we're having more jacket potatoes and beans rather than more variety, but we make sure we all eat as healthily as possible. We haven't had to use foodbanks yet and hopefully, that will stay that way.”

Somehow, we manage each month. If I'm honest, our constant struggle is just so normalised now. We just make do. We don’t think about things we can’t have and stick to the basics. We have a roof over our heads and the kids are not starving. This is the life we've had for so long that you just stop thinking about an alternative.


The children are aware they don't have as much money as their friends' families do, but they don't know just how much of a struggle it is for their parents to make ends meet.

“They're great kids, and they just get on with it, despite not having the life that many of their friends have. Neither has a mobile phone for example, though we'll try and get one for the older one next year for her safety. She's been told it’s a luxury item though and not a toy,” says Paul.

Fiona says Sophie has even offered to contribute her pocket money to the family budget.

“Bless her, she also says she wants to help pay for things when we go for our food shop, but of course we say no. It does break my heart a bit though when she says it!”

Support from family

The family feels fortunate to live near Fiona's parents, who are very supportive. “They're an enormous help to us, and we're so grateful that they're close by. If we're being honest, it would be a real struggle without them,” added Paul.

Paul is philosophical about his situation. “Of course, it would be lovely to be able to return to work and to have more money. When you're in our situation you make do. You can either be stressed and bang your head against the wall or you get on with it.”

Children are in crisis

The cost of living crisis is affecting too many children and families.

Families shouldn’t have to choose between eating meals or paying bills. Parents shouldn’t need to skip meals to feed their children. But this is a reality for many of the families Action for Children supports.

We are doing everything we can to help these children, but with your support, we could do so much more.


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