When Tom was one and I’d finished my degree, I went out looking for work with bags of enthusiasm and a massive, naive smile on my face. I’d done it: had a baby, graduated and I was ready to begin a career. I had no idea how difficult the next bit was going to be.
Paying a childminder to look after my son, I attended dozens of fruitless interviews. I lived with Mum in a small town, where work, particularly well-paid, part-time work, was scarce. I knew I was going to have to commute to a city, but also that I wouldn’t be home in time to collect Tom for 6pm, when most childminders finish. Eventually, I became self-employed and managed to save up to move out. I got a part-time job with Saturday shifts, but that nearly fell through when I found that many childminders who worked weekends charged huge premiums. Back then, I got help with nursery fees (I don’t know if I would under the current system.) The nursery was great: open until 6pm, all year-round. I got a shock when Tom started school: suddenly, it’s expected of you to do half-day or 3pm pick-ups – and it’s closed for 13 weeks a year.
Last week, David Cameron said (amongst other things) “there is only one route out of poverty and it is work.”
I don’t often agree with Mr C, but I do there. For those who are able, work is wonderful. Most people moan about their jobs sometimes, but we’d be lost without them. I for one don’t know what I’d be doing all day while Tom was at school if I wasn’t working. Work keeps our minds busy, sets a crucial example to children, it challenges us and of course, it pays the bills. But I am lucky to have qualifications, the ability to work flexibly from home and family and friends who help out when they can. It’s not that straightforward for others.
Despite common misconceptions, 59% of single parents work – and according to Gingerbread, the national one parent family charity, most of those who don’t desperately want to. The problem is that too many barriers stand in the way; many single parents need to have access to courses that will qualify them to work, affordable childcare, flexible hours, or wraparound clubs at schools. And after childcare and housing costs have been taken into consideration, work needs to be beneficial (Gingerbread say one in five single parents who work full-time are living in poverty.) Even with the new ‘Universal Credit’ system, childcare costs can outstrip wages.
Gingerbread want to make going out to work an achievable route out of poverty for single parents. That’s why they’ve launched the ‘Make it Work for Single Parents’ campaign, which ultimately aims to get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020. You can read the full task list here.
Gingerbread are asking single parents to add their voices to the Make it Workforce. It’s a chance to tell the Government and employers what you need in order to be able to go to work. Click here to see what’s being said already. Even if you’re not a single parent, you can get involved in the campaign, by telling someone you know who is, or writing to your MP.
Work is the only route out of poverty (apart from perhaps winning the lottery) but it has to work for those who want to do it.