I'm very proud to be a supporter of Gingerbread, the charity offering support and advice to single parents, and to help launch their new campaign - Make it work for single parents.
There are 2 million single parents in the UK raising over 3 million children, with over half of those parents in work. Single parents often face overwhelming barriers to getting – and keeping – a decent job. Hugely expensive childcare, low pay and a lack of flexible working options can all add up to keep single parents from being able to find work which lets them support their family, not to mention fulfil their own aspirations. As government cuts take hold and ongoing but misguided media reports of ‘feckless single mums’ and ‘benefits scroungers who don’t want to work’ continue to circulate, the situation for many families is likely to get much worse over the coming years, unless something is done about it.
I know from personal experience how hard it can be to raise children alone and find suitable work. When I first became a single parent in 2003 I was working full-time and had been the 'breadwinner' for some time. My girls were 3 and 6 at the time, and apart from having to pay extra childcare costs - because my ex was no longer available to help out - I also struggled to just keep things together. Long hours (often not getting home before 6pm), juggling pick-ups from two different childcare providers and simply not seeing enough of my daughters made it very difficult to cope and just one problem (such as the childminder being sick) could quickly spiral into a crisis.
After a few months of struggling to keep it all together I asked my employer if I could reduce my hours or do a job share but they 'couldn't see how it could work' and so I reluctantly took voluntary redundancy when it was offered.
I'm sure there are single parents who could cope, but for me it was too much of a strain. I knew that the only way I could manage was to work part-time, which inevitably means low pay. I decided to take a job working as a teaching assistant which meant I also worked shorter days and had the same holidays as the girls, but it also meant I was earning less than a third of my previous salary.
I haven't regretted that decision, as it's allowed me to spend important time with my daughters, but the options available to me at the time were few and far between.
Gingerbread is launching this campaign aimed at getting the government and employers to take a set of realistic actions that would make it work for single parents – ensuring decent jobs are available, that all working single parents are free from the threat of poverty and that proper support and childcare are available to let single parents share their skills and talents in the workplace.
They have an ambitious task list for the Government and employers:
1. Make work a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parents
2. Get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020
3. Employ a different attitude to work and school hours
4. Unlock single parents’ skills and potential.
Read more about it on the Gingerbread website and please join the campaign to make it work for single parents.