‘Everything is double and yet we end up with half’- Carly’s single parent story

Posted 7 April 2022

I am Carly, single mum to Ezra. He is almost 4, so he was not even 2 years old when we first went into the pandemic. I do not co-parent, so I am doing the job of two.

I am grateful to Gingerbread for giving me, and thousands of other single parents a voice, highlighting the challenges we face and campaigning for change. It really feels like someone is in your corner fighting for you and supporting you. As a busy single parent, you rarely have the time, energy, or headspace to fight, but Gingerbread is there doing it for you, and that’s been so important to me. It’s knowing that the struggles you face are real, but you are not alone.

As a white, able-bodied, straight woman, by default I have access to opportunities and experiences by default that other single parents do not. I have an undergraduate and a Master’s degree, and I now work almost full time for a national charity in a senior role. I think it’s important to highlight that though these are my experiences, there are many single parents who haven’t had the same opportunities as me and are fighting bigger and harder battles.

Parenting is a challenge. It is tough: practically, emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially tough. But single parenting is twice as tough, if not more. It’s not for the faint hearted. Add a two-year pandemic and the after-effects of that into the mix and you are in for a hell of a bumpy ride.

Overlooked and left behind

Though we’re coming out of the worst of the pandemic, it’s clear to see the challenges, impacts and effects of it on single parents like me.

The challenges have changed throughout the past two years, but they keep coming and I think we’re all still waiting for the let up. Sometimes I don’t know what’s been harder, being in the pandemic or dealing with the ‘new normal’ over the last few months. Financially speaking, coming out of the pandemic has been brutal.

As a single parent, one of the things I felt the most, and continues even now is the feeling that I’ve been left behind. Like single parents have been forgotten about and overlooked. Whatever people say, we are very much not in this together.

Isolating without a lifeline

When I reflect on the pandemic, what was so tough for single parents was the isolation that we were forced into. My support networks are essential to my single parent journey and my wellbeing. They are the difference between making this all possible and not. I think decision makers are rarely experiencing life like a lot of us, and though this is not a new phenomenon, it was really bought to the surface during the pandemic. Ultimately, the impact was felt so intensely by single parents.

Access to affordable housing for single parents continues to be incredibly challenging. For me, this is not only due to finances but also the huge amount of discrimination I have experienced. I want people to understand that due to our social and economic circumstances, single parents are far more likely to be in substandard housing and environments. During the pandemic, this really hit hard.

Not having a garden or any nice outdoor space nearby, I just have multiple car parks with an extraordinary amount of fly-tipping which was not collected because of the pandemic. Your home environment, particularly its flaws and deficiencies come into sharp focus when you’re stuck inside for months of lockdown. I’ve never felt those disparities more.

The issues and challenges we face with housing haven’t changed post-pandemic; the only difference is we can leave them more often now. That is, of course, if we can afford to.

The devastating consequences of the cost-of-living crisis, and the reduction of Universal Credit has been well documented. After all the campaigns and the clear evidence highlighting how the loss of the uplift would impact single parents, I still cannot believe that it went ahead. We didn’t need it in lockdown when we couldn’t go out and had fewer expenses. We need it now.
It’s a lifeline that has been taken away when people need it the most, when everything is so unaffordable, and without providing any information or support to help single parents to survive.

On top of that, we now know that Universal Credit will not be uprated in line with inflation, and for most of us, neither are our salaries. I have one income – just one – and there is no guidance from our government on how we are expected to make this work.

Vicious cycle of debt

I work 4 days a week, relying on my parents for childcare but they both still work so it’s limited. The reality is my salary all goes on rent, childcare, council tax and now, very high household bills. That’s it – it’s all gone.

So, I rely on what I receive from Universal Credit, an amount which is not sufficient to cover my outgoings in London with a child, a struggle that is becoming even harder with costs rising so much. I use credit cards; I have debt; I repay some of that debt every month, but the reality is it’s just a vicious cycle of debt and I find I am relying on that by the end of the month more and more. Knowing that getting out and seeing people is crucial for my wellbeing and my child’s, I think I really should be able to do this. I work almost full time, so this essential part of mine and my son’s life shouldn’t be such a challenge or be a luxury we can’t afford.

Like so many others, I am nervous about my finances and how bad it will get. What will be the tipping point? The current situation isn’t sustainable so what happens next? How does this end?

Twice the work with half the resources

Helen Thorn said: ‘’Somebody once said to me you’re not a single parent. You’re a double parent and that really f*@!ing changed the narrative.’’ It’s my favourite quote about single parenting and I think it’s so important that we start to change that narrative, and to acknowledge the realities of single parenting. Everything is double and yet we end up with half.

Systems like Universal Credit and the Child Maintenance Service, childcare settings, schools, and employers need to start basing their decisions and policies on the fact that we are doing double but with half the finances, time, and opportunities. Ultimately, this is what causes the real struggles and inequalities for single parents.