Thursday, 8 November 2012
Make it work for single parents
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.
Posted by WeAreWildThings