Single mums speak out

Single parents are among those most affected by tax and benefit changes. A report out last week from the Fawcett Society and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that single mums can expect to lose 8.5 per cent of their income by 2015 – more than a month’s income a year – due to tax and benefit changes. Workingmums.co.uk asked some single mothers whether they had been affected, but also how they managed balancing work and family life, what advice they would give other single parents and what would help them.

Single parents are among those most affected by tax and benefit changes. A report out last week from the Fawcett Society and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that single mums can expect to lose 8.5 per cent of their income by 2015 – more than a month’s income a year – due to tax and benefit changes.

It has done an assessment of all tax and benefit reforms to be introduced between 2010 – 2015 which it says shows that single women will lose more as a proportion of their income than other households as a result of the cuts.   

Workingmums.co.uk asked some single mothers whether they had been affected, but also how they managed balancing work and family life, what advice they would give other single parents and what would help them.

Sue Bretherton is a teaching assistant working 26 hours a week. She has not been affected by the tax credit changes, she thinks, because she does not earn enough. She agrees with Mary that the hardest thing work wife has been finding flexible work that allows her to look after her daughter. She says: “I have had to take the odd day off work due to my daughter’s illness (only two days in two years), but this inevitably raises my sickness record. Also, if my daughter’s school closes when mine is open (because we are in different local authorities), on my salary I would not be able to afford the childcare options available locally.”

Her parents live close by and help out with her daughter, but they are not young and have health problems so she doesn’t like to ask them too much. They do help with emergencies, though.

She says she doesn’t regret that she is not working longer hours and has little disposable income. She feels that spending time with her daughter while she is very young is more important. “I really treasure the time we have together. I believe (and this is not to be judgemental but realistic) that the early years of a child are the most crucial and you can never have those back. The children don’t need expensive holidays etc. to be happy – they need YOU and YOUR TIME. What you do now has huge knock on effects for your children as they grow into adults themselves,” she says.

Ideally, she would like a job which fits around her daughter’s school day and uses her skills and qualifications, even if that meant doing some work in the evenings or at weekends provided she gets to spend time with her daughter.

Mary Smith* [not her real name] is working full time as a financial consultant and her daughter is in nursery full time. She was made redundant from an insurance firm the week after returning from maternity leave. She had requested a part-time role and because it was not an established role it was “deemed disposable”. She says all the women on maternity leave were made redundant as a result of cuts in staffing levels. She has had to take a £9k drop in salary in her new job and has little chance of promotion because, she says, she cannot stay late and it is assumed she will do overtime if she wants to get ahead.

She says her current role claims to be flexible, but she has to work core hours and put in at least 40 hours a week.

Her tax credits have been reduced from £122 a week to £27 per week. “This was done without any warning and has created financial difficulty,” she says.

She says everything about being a single parent has been extremely difficult. “Childcare is very expensive and finding work with reasonable flexibility has been impossible,” she says.

Her advice to other single parents would be not to take advice from local authorities about childcare support in the light of her experience over tax credits. “They encourage you back to work stating you will be entitled to certain benefits to balance off the cost of childcare and then they are stopped with no consultation,” she says.

Renata Sziget is working part time as a care assistant and works every other weekend, which presents childcare problems. Her daughter is four and she has had her childcare support cut back as a result of tax credit changes plus gets only £2.50 a week in child maintenance. For the weekends she works she has to use a babysitter who is not Ofsted-registered so can’t get any tax credits for that.

She finds the hardest thing about being a single parent is childcare – both the cost and availability. She lives in a small town and there are few childminders available. She is also worried about the lack of available flexible jobs. She says she has recently tried to talk to her employer about her hours as currently her childcare costs are more than she is earning.

She says what would help her most would be “to have an employer who is more helpful to single parents giving them flexible hours and days”.

Kelli Morriss is currently training to be a customer service rep for Shop Direct. She will be able to work from home and set her own hours within a 20-hour a week minimum. So far the tax credit changes have not affected her as she has not been earning. Also her daughter is a teenager so she tends only to have to use friends and her ex-husband to help out with childcare.

She says the hardest thing for her in terms of work life balance as a single parent has been balancing being the only adult in charge of running a household and concentrating on work. “I gave up ‘Things to done today’ lists and am currently running behind getting things done on time. There is no more any time for just myself with so many other things needing to be done,” she says.

Her advice to other single parents is to give yourself a bit of a break. “Nobody’s life is perfect just do the best you are able. It is important to take some time for yourself (no, I do not do this) as it is important your batteries are fully charged occasionally,” she says.

She thinks her work life balance would improve if she could get some occasional help and develop more organisational skills so she could “catch up”. “If I were able to catch up I think I could manage daily life much easier,” she says.

Roxanne de la Motta is self-employed, working in a craft market which only opens on Saturdays. Her earnings are very low so she has not noticed any changes in her tax credits and she has had to take her car off the road as she can’t afford its upkeep. In any event, she often brings her daughter to the market with her as she can’t afford childcare and her ex-partner can’t have her every weekend. She is, however, looking for full-time work and so uses an Ofsted-registered nursery.

Like several of the mums questions she doesn’t feel she has any advice to offer as she is finding things extremely difficult herself.

Her main concern is finding work. She has accounting and initial teaching qualifications and was in full-time work until last June when her and colleagues’ hours were reduced – in her case from 40 to eight hours a week. She says she keeps getting asked personal questions at interview about her daughter, her marital status and her childcare arrangements.

She says: “I feel penalised because I am a single parent with a young child.” She has been looking for full-time work for almost a year and her landlord is selling her flat so she is considering moving out of London to get a better quality of life. She asks: What is the government doing to help people in my situation who desperately want to get back into work?”

Mel, another single mum with a secondary-school age child, had her tax credits reduced recently by £100 a month. She says the hardest thing for her is low pay and poor flexibility. She would like a one stop centre that gives all the advice she needs to find a job which allows her to work a maximum amount of hours a day but on reasonable pay.





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