Alison is a single parent of two children, a 20 year-old son and a 14 year-old daughter. She works part-time in a café in the North West of England after a career working for housing associations and teaching in India. A lover of gardening and drawing, she has been a single parent for 7 years.
As summer draws on, I’m sure many single parents will be thinking about the costs of their children going back to school. My daughter is 14, starting year 10 of her secondary school, in September. One huge cost I have to consider is her annual bus pass. My local council normally put school buses on to get children to school. This year I have applied as usual for a bus pass, costing around £460 for the year.
I applied for help with the bus pass, however an email came saying that they are only prioritising the poorest pupils for buses this year. This happens to be me, but I haven’t applied for assistance as my parents have been willing to pay in the past. The last time I tried, the council said I should have put my daughter in the nearest school. I had put as first choice one of the closest schools for that very reason but was offered the one she is at now. As someone on variable shifts who often has to start work at 8am, I am reliant on public transport to help my daughter get to school.
Other pupils and parents have been told they should make their children walk or bike to school. We live near a motorway feeder road and an A road, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting their child to be cycling, especially in the dark winter months, along roads that could be so dangerous. As I set off for work, I can’t help but think the realities of single parent life have been forgotten by my child’s school.
I have written to my daughter’s school transport team, but received a non-committal response. I have written to her headmaster, but he has said he won’t get involved. I have had to write to my local MP and council just to get some attention to this issue.
The school have let me visit the school to collect uniform, and there is a local service to collect and redistribute second hand uniforms, which is useful. But this is just one of the many costs and concerns for me sending my children back to school.
I received the good news that my daughter will get her bus pass for the new school year last week. It’s costly, but at least the provision will be there for children who need it when earlier it was in question. Buses will be available to her, she can safely get to school, and I won’t have to ask my manager for altered shifts at work. I am certain that this is only because I wrote open letters to the head of my county council and the school transport team to correct this issue. It shows that reasoned argument and campaigning is so important. But should single parents have to campaign to get their children to school safely?
I am also fortunate. I’m fortunate that my parents would be willing to cover the £460 cost of the bus pass. I am fortunate that my sister is a journalist who was equally enraged at this, and that she was able to help me write the open letters. I may also be fortunate that I happen to know the head of my county council come into my work, and know me. But many others wouldn’t be as fortunate.
Overall, I am delighted and relieved. But it does make me think about an aspect of single parenting that can be worrisome, and I’m glad my local authority are now aware of the issue for my daughter, and other children of single parents.
If you are a single parent struggling financially, we have information pages on the ways you may be able to get help.