Thursday, 8 November 2012

Make it work for single parents

Make it work

Gingerbread recently launched their new campaign Make it work for single parents. Their aim is to help to make it financially and logistically possible for single parents to work. Returning to work is a pretty big nightmare for a lot of parents, single or in couples. The financial strain of childcare and the inflexibility of working hours mean it is often a stressful and unrewarding time. The added strain of being the sole (or close enough to) provider of care and money in a family causes you to feel trapped in a situation where it doesn't always pay to work.

I've been fairly lucky in terms of work. The job I had when I was pregnant basically disappeared while I was on maternity leave and so I was given the option not to go back, which I chose. Logistically I couldn't anyway as my job was a full-time position in London and at this stage I was living with my parents on the South Coast. I waited out my maternity leave and then once I was unemployed I went on jobseekers and searched high and low for a part-time job, pretty much any part-time job. And there weren't many out there, and they didn't pay very well. I did get one though, I moved back up to London and I was excited about being able to work to provide for my son, even if the salary was less than my old job, and then pro-rata.

I couldn't afford to go back to work full-time, because of the cost of childcare (the limit for help with childcare is £175 a week - full-time childcare for Kit would have cost nearly £300 and that isn't the most expensive by far), add that to the sliding scale of other benefits I would have been worse off in a full-time better paid position than the part-time role I had. Having a job meant I could keep off income support and obviously job-seekers. I got tax credits to help with childcare and I get housing benefit. I'd like to be off benefits, I really would, but I simply can't afford to live without them and while I have to pay for childcare I can't afford to work more hours.

Recently I've switched jobs again. This time it was more to do with wanting a career change. I've been studying since Kit was born because I wasn't happy in the job I had before him and the career path I originally had planned out was never going to work (unless anyone would like to employ me as a museum curator?). Part of the reason for choosing the job I now have is because it is term-time only. Kit now goes to an all-day pre-school which closes in the holidays. Next year he'll be at school. I found life incredibly stressful whenever my childminder mentioned that she would be on holiday (and that was only 5 weeks of the year) I didn't want to have the stress of dealing with all the school holidays. And then there is the time that Kit is sick, and that gets taken off your holiday doesn't it and you can't plan for sickness. I know this is the same for all parents, but the difference for a single parent is that there isn't always two people to split the childcare/holiday allowance between. I ended up with £160 worth of childcare cost that hadn't budgeted for in August this year because you can't always rely on someone to pick up the extra days holiday you need.

As I stand I'm in the benefits trap. I can't save to get out of it (actually the benefits system penalises you for saving), and I can't afford to work more hours to get out of it. One of my big plans is to find more work that I can do while Kit is asleep, from home, or while my parents could babysit, so that I can fit more hours into the day and work myself off benefits outside of childcare issues. The problem is the gap between earning too much to be on benefits but not earning enough to live on. There is a gap between being on benefits and being financially independent, the question is if I can get across the shaky bridge quick enough and earn enough more to make it pay.

Check out other single parents stories on the Gingerbread website to see other experiences of work as a single parent. And get involved with Gingerbreads campaign to help create a more parent-friendly work market so that more single parents can go back to work without having to comprimise their career prospects and their families.


  1. Although I whole heartedly support the campaign to get single parents back to work, unfortunately there is a conflict between what everyone wants on this front. Read the forums and you'll see parents complaining bitterly because the government is encouraging them to work, read and see people complaining that they don't get enough benefits, read and see people complain they get too many benefits so that working full time (or at all!) isn't an attractive option. What's the solution? Cut benefits so working IS more attractive?

    As a married parent I dearly wanted to work part time - but couldn't afford to. As a single parent I can. Are we really that hard done to?

    Childcare IS an issue, but an issue for all not just single parents, again I had similar issues when married as we both had very demanding careers, if hubby was the other side of the Atlantic it usually fell on me to jump through hoops to sort out illnesses, unexpected days off.

    I'm not entirely sure of the overall logistics of what Gingerbread are proposing with this campaign but unless it means single parents everywhere have total choice to do what they want regardless of whether or not they can afford it, then there are going to be parents complaining. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but whatever the government do on this front they're criticised.

    I don't know the answer, but I have to say nor have I seen any feasible, well thought out answers given our current climate. I look forward to being proven wrong.

    1. I agree with you that you can't please everybody. I also disapprove of people expecting to not have to work for money (and I know having children is work, but it's a choice and a voluntary position). I don't know any single parents that feel they shouldn't have to work, but I do know some that simply can't make it work. Most single parents didn't choose to do it alone, and that is where the difference is workwise. The lack of support.

      Even if in a couple one person is taking the brunt of the childcare and childcare issues, there is always a fall-back guy/gal. If a single parent runs out of holiday allowance from child illness or something what do they do? In my last job I used to dread it when I had to travel to a meeting as it meant I had to drag my mum up (I don't live nearby) to stay the night to watch my son for as little as half an hour before the childminder because there was noone else to do it, chances are if I was with someone they could have picked up that half an hour. I know all parents struggle with childcare, and I understand people whose partners work away are in a similar situation (although they probably also benefit from there partners income!).

      Everyones situation is different, and I think the key point is whether you mean 'afford' to work being maintaining a lifestyle, or whether you mean paying for a roof over your head and food in your belly and very little else? I don't feel hard done by as a single parent, like you said you don't. I fully appreciate the benefits that I do get, but actually what I want is not to need them, and when I say not to need them, I just mean to home, feed and clothe us and very little else, I'm not bothered to be rich, just to support us. For me the most important thing is that if there are more jobs that allow for flexibility around school hours, I don't need to pay for childcare, and neither do the Government (i.e. the taxpayers) have to pay it for me. I'd happily work all the hours my son is at school and then from home once my son is in bed until I go to bed if that will mean I can earn enough to keep us.

      That isn't all Gingerbread are fighting for though, and a lot of what they want is actually stuff that has been taken away. The Government want everyone to work, Gingerbread want them to help break down the hurdles that are stopping single parents be able to, it's actually more about getting single parents support to understand what works for them and manage expectations so that they can be good employees.

    2. I think that cutting benefits to make work more attractive is an entirely stupid ignorant idear. Not every parent wants to be dragged out of the home away from the very best job in the world. looking after and raising her own children. to scrub floors in Mc Donnolds for minimum wage. OK? Have a think. What would you do? use your head! Raise the minimum wage to an affordable income. not cut benefits, and create free/affordable career training for lone parents so that they properly can do the ardious task of providing for their families, whilst being both the mother and the father.

    3. Well that is all very well and good if you are lucky enough to have a proper career/profession that makes it all worth while. There if far too much emphasis on getting lone mothers into work when ie, the work is just not there and mostly, the skills are not there either. we should be focusing on training and accessable courses with childcare to train those who need quoliications after looking after a family at home.

    4. I agree that raising the minimum wage and creating affordable career training would be a great start. I think that would be a great start for all families on a low-income, not just single-parents. There are already some training opportunities out there, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic single parent advisor when I was on job-seekers and she was actually searching out opportunities for experience to get me into the work that I wanted to do. There is also an issue once you actually start working though, even if you are earning enough money you need to be able to make it work with childcare and managing to bring up a family and fulfil your work commitments. The jobs need to exist to suit people with families full stop.

  2. Great post. Sorry to hear of your struggles. I'm a married mother but was a single parent for 5 years. I got a student loan in order to try and get out of the benefit trap. I owe thousands now when they would have just given me income support had I not tried to get an education to better myself.
    Today 2 of my children have come down sick whilst at school and I'm just glad I was available to be there for them. Me and my husband used to work alternative shifts but it was no good because we were always so tired and never saw each other/spent time as a family.
    Now I'm a self-employed consultant for Jamie@Home - is something like that a possibility for you?
    Good luck with it all.



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