Single mother, but not alone

“When I had my daughter 10 years ago, I had no idea what a struggle it could be to raise a child on your own in the UK”. Tove Samzelius’ call to action in support of single parents.

I never planned to become a single mother. Despite what the media wants to make you believe, most people don’t. However, once you are, you want to be treated with the same respect as other mothers. You want your child to have the same opportunities as others and you want your family to be a happy one. Like so many other women that have the experience of being a single parent, I have felt anger about the stigma and stereotyping that continue to haunt single mothers in this country. I am particularly appalled by the difficulties facing parents when trying to juggle work with expensive and un-flexible childcare arrangements.

tove1When I had my daughter 10 years ago, I had no idea what a struggle it could be to raise a child on your own in the UK. I knew nothing about the benefit system, cost of childcare or how lonely one could feel in the company of a very small human being. I learnt quickly though. I learnt that as an EU citizen and a student I was not entitled to income support, but I had to work without receiving any maternity pay. I also learnt that childcare in the UK is the most expensive in Europe, and, to escape loneliness and boredom I learnt about all of Bristol parks and that you have to be pro-active to make new friends.

I was determined to continue with my post-graduate studies, but after two years of stress and minimal support from the university community I had to give in. The final straw was when my maintenance grant came to an end at the same time as Bristol City Council withdrew their childcare subsidy that had helped me to afford childcare. I had worked so hard, but there was just no way I could afford to continue. I quit, but had no idea what to do next.

I started to apply for jobs, and it was hard. My confidence had also suffered a blow and I remember feeling that I had to justify my ability to work despite being a single parent when I went to interviews. When I got a job as an admin, I was constantly told that I was over qualified, but I was just happy to have a job.

When I came across the Single Parent Action Network my life changed. I started as part time admin support worker with SPAN and now after eight years I am the Director of the Learning Centre at SPAN. I am no longer a struggling single parent, but I will never forget those years when my daughter was little.

When my daughter was little, single parents were able to access help through tax credits to pay for up to 80 % of their childcare costs. Sure Start Centres were opened and SPAN ran a home based childcare project. Through the New Deal for lone parents, Jobcentre Plus offered single parents additional financial support, specialist advise and support with training. It worked and helped thousands of single parents to move in to sustainable employment without loosing out financially. This is all gone now.

I have never seen so many single parents struggle as I have in this past year. Parents are sanctioned by Jobcentre plus and have their benefits cut left to survive on next to nothing. When parents move in to work, their housing benefits are stopped as they need to be reassessed, delays can lead to evictions and homelessness. We see parents who are desperate to learn English, but can’t find a place on a course. Women who flee domestic violence, but because of benefit delays they have to go to food banks to survive. Most of the women that we see moving in to employment move in to precarious work on zero hour contracts.

More joined up thinking and creative approaches could be found to address these issues, but the voluntary and statutory sectors cannot achieve this on their own. We need other sectors to join us too, in our mission to ensure that Bristol’s prosperity benefits us all.

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