The social and political injustice single parents face and how underrated their skill sets are.
Raising children is hard. Apparently, it takes a village, so how on earth is a single parent not supposed to feel overwhelmed doing something that on some days only feels achievable by a superhero. At some point, you find yourself answering the phone to your energy company, feeding and burping your baby whilst keeping an eye on dinner, and experiencing a tiredness you never knew possible. You’re getting through this alone and being innovative too, having to be three steps ahead of everything just to keep yourself afloat and your child happy. I think that’s impressive, yet the countless times I have heard single parents referred to as “sit abouts on benefits”… NOTHING could be further from the truth.
The injustice of society writing you off as useless when you have a child is infuriating. I would argue it is society that becomes useless to you when you become a single parent and serves you and your child injustice in the following ways. Firstly, to put your child in daycare is £116 per week part time for 25 hours, £222 per week full time. Meanwhile, the minimum wage is £7.50 per hour. If you’re employed on minimum wage at 25 hours you would earn the grand sum of £187.50 per week. That leaves you with £71.50 after paying for childcare. You managed to get through seven days of giving to a job and baby to earn £71.50 for yourself and your infant at the end of the week to buy food and put towards rent, bills and clothes.
Anyone’s next logical step would be to inquire about benefits. That dreaded word throws more stigma your way and makes people stereotype you as if it is easy to work your way out of poverty. Benefits are there to help, they do help cover rent but not all of it, yet society seems to think that you are sitting in the lap of luxury with your child. In reality, you’ve learned to budget and spread costs in a society with rising living standards. Income support is there to help you make ends meet fortnightly. However, when a child is five, income support is stopped and you are required to attend work focused appointments – where children are not permitted to attend. I have actually seen a woman turned away because she had no one to watch her child. She turned up but was marked as unattended. They say if you don’t attend, your benefits may be stopped! Where is the human compassion? It’s not like this woman has committed benefit fraud. She was penalized for being a single mum by the only lifeline she has to survive.
Now finding employment – I think with the inescapable zero-hour contracts people face, there’s even less stability. The feeling of failure when you just want to be a good parent to your child and have some money of your own to be able to have some fun together is something that feels impossible. Your ex has time to work and gets a new lease of life, building themselves up. You are trying to do the same and raise the child and being refused for jobs and your ex doesn’t understand when you say a hundred in child “support” isn’t enough.
Everyone says your friends seem to vanish when you have a baby. Not many people seem to bother with you when you’re a single parent. The isolation on top of everything else is sometimes the worst factor. Doing the most selfless job is one that makes you invisible too. The odds of finding someone else to be with one day, not only take you on but your child, ex being in the picture, having to help you pay for your living and being a parental figure to your child and suit you in personality dynamics is asking a lot of anyone. But for now, you have more pressing issues to handle.
Most annoyingly is when you hear “It was your choice to have children”. Seemingly, having issues listened to empathetically without being guilt tripped about the fact your child was brought into existence is too much. No one realizes the stigma you face unless you’ve gone through it. Having the child isn’t the problem, it’s having to find a job that makes ends meet that is in school time. How are you supposed to have a stable job when during the school holidays it is impossible to find help and you can’t afford a childminder because they cost more an hour than you earn.
In 2015, The Mirror said mums are worth £172,000 a year. I think single parents are worth around that. They have transferable skills like time management, schedule making, appointment keeping, budgeting, financing, cooking, housekeeping, personal care, teaching a child phonics, numbers, and language. Then there is the emotional labour, acting diplomatic, calm, fair, resourceful and hard working.
Yet zero-hours and changes in circumstances keep you trapped in a cycle of jumping jobs, unable to accumulate money or savings and diminishing your self-esteem, while your benefit payments are frozen and re calculated. Keeping calm is the only way through. I think the main thing is to make your CV reflect the journey parenthood has given you. A good employer should help you get childcare vouchers and be flexible and understanding to your situation. So, in short, I feel single parents deserve better from society and their social groups. No parent should be punished for having a child and raising them alone. Single parents should be celebrated and recognized for the amazing and thankless job they do and to have the ability and potential they have built upon in employment.
By Emma O’Brien