Tag Archives: single parents

Make it Work

Make it work for single parents campaign
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.

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No Pets, No DSS, No Single Parents

“Mum, it’s beautiful!” Tom said, as we approached our new house.

And it was.

Finally: south of the city, within budget and best of all, a garden. One of my pet hates is when letting agents market two-up-two-downs in Chorlton as cottages (¬£850 a month, anyone?) but this did actually feel like a cottage. And it wasn’t in Chorlton, but I’d probably end up getting eco ennui if I lived there anyway.

“I want it,” I said, as we stepped through the door into a room full of sunlight.

Ten minutes later, the fees were in the agency’s bank account, the lady at the office was congratulating me and Tom was choosing his bedroom. Never mind the people who arrived to look at it as we were leaving: it was ours.

Except it wasn’t.

Three days later, I received a call from the agency:

“The landlady has decided she doesn’t want children in there.”

“I’ve only got one child.”

“I know, we’ve tried but she just says no children.”

“He’s nearly seven. What does she think he’s going to do – draw on the walls?”

“Sorry. You haven’t handed in your notice on your current house, have you?”

“No,” I’d been too busy, thank goodness, “Why is this happening?”

“Sorry. She just wants two working professionals.”

We’d already been through this: I contacted the agency initially to ask if I could have a cat in there – and they were more interested in what humans would be moving in. After I told them it would just be me and my son, they said that sorry, the landlady would only accept two working professionals. I pleaded with the agent, offering a guarantor, references and pay slips and suddenly, they were ‘pleased to tell me’ the landlady would let us look around.

Lucky us.

When the news had sunk in, I called the agency back to sort out the refund of the fees. This time, I got a man:

“I just don’t understand why she let us look around then changed her mind.”

“Yeah it’s not discrimination or anything like that,” he said, before I’d even mentioned the word, “All it is is that she’s got some concerns about the safety of the property and outside the property that make it unsuitable for a child.”

“But she knew I had a child. What concerns?”

“Obviously, these are just some concerns she has.”

“What sort of concerns?” Holes in the roof? Local doggers? A poltergeist?

“Obviously,” (no, it’s not obvious) “these are just some concerns she has. It’s for her own conscience, really.”

I checked the website when I got home and the house had gone. Someone had got it, just not us.

Luckily, Tom’s easy-going.¬†“She sounds nasty, Mum. It’s a good job we didn’t move into her house anyway.”

I suspect the landlady hadn’t decided that she didn’t want a child in her property; she had decided that she didn’t want a single mother in her property.

I’d forgotten all this: when Tom was a toddler, I thought I’d be stuck in Mum’s house forever. Following one viewing, I called a landlady to tell her I was interested and she said “Right. Well, you don’t choose us, we choose you. So we’ll let you know if you’ve been successful.” (She never called back.)

On another occasion, a landlord of a ‘student flat suitable for families’, advertised through the university laughed at me: “How can you be studying if you have a baby? Sorry, this flat is not for you.”

This is not the 1950s: single parents are not excluded like they used to be, but the discrimination is still there, subtle. Single parents cannot just find their perfect home, pay the deposit and move in – mysterious force fields seem to see to that. For those who claim Housing Benefit, things are even harder. Moving house wasn’t something we desperately needed to do, but for many it is. You’re not as susceptible to the prejudice when you’re lucky enough to have an education and a job – but neither are you completely immune.

If you’re my landlord and you’re reading this (unlikely, but you have just offered to have the whole house professionally painted) we’re not going anywhere. Turns out getting Tom into a new school would have been incredibly difficult – and he’s happy where he is. And we’re very lucky to have a landlord who trusts us, never comes round, sends a repair man the second anything goes wrong and lets us have a cat. Thanks. I’ll keep making this our home and paying my rent on time, every month, just like I have been doing for the past five years.

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Shanene Thorpe’s Petition: Please take a moment to sign

I just received an email from Shanene Thorpe via change.org and I really wanted to share her petition with my readers. Shanene was given the opportunity to be interviewed by Newsnight about being a single, working mother struggling to pay rent and housing costs. “Of course I was happy to do it,” she writes in her petition letter, “being a working mum is something I am proud of.”

But the interview turned out to be far from the positive experience Shanene had expected: in the final edit, no mention is made of the fact she has a job. Reporter Allegra Stratton aggressively grills Shanene on why she wants a family home for herself and her three year old child – and why the three of them can’t just live together in her mother’s two bedroom flat. The interview is clipped just as Shanene says “I’m asking for help towards, I’m not asking for a free handout.”

You can watch the two minute interview here:

Here we go again, the age old image of single parents being scroungers being perpetuated. We know it’s not true, but the media just isn’t interested.

Shanene feels humiliated and wants an apology. I don’t blame her. Please take a couple of minutes to sign her petition to Peter Rippon, Editor of Newsnight, here. She should feel proud, not ashamed – and I hope this all brings her and other working single parents some positive press.

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