Single mum of three Lucy blogs at JustMyThreeandMe. She shares her thoughts on the financial challenges of single parenting:
‘When I first became a single parent, I had no idea of the struggles I would face. We talk about the lack of free time, the lack of help that we get with our children – but something that’s less commonly spoken about is the financial difficulty that we find ourselves in.
After my relationship broke down and I was a single mum to one, I waited for over six months for my first tax credit payment. My ex paid some money each month, but I was living off a part time wage. I had to take money from my two-year-old son’s piggy bank to pay for nappies and food. It has since been paid back but I had no idea that I really would not be able to really live on my wages, and how much I was going to rely on tax credits.
I have since ended up having two more children, by different fathers both of whom do not pay maintenance. So I knew that I could immediately discount that as any kind of income to support my children. I came from a single-parent family, and I was always acutely aware that my mother didn’t have much money to support us. She’d found herself deeply in debt in the process of trying to provide. I wanted so much to steer away from using credit cards and loans, but parent guilt and my overriding desire to provide as much as I could for my children has unfortunately pushed me into debt.
The questions seem to begin when our children are very young, sometimes before they even learn to walk. Do we return to work and pay for childcare, or do we live off the benefits that are on offer? I felt so much conflict around whether I could work full time, but I had no options for free childcare. I knew that I was going to be paying £50 to £60 a day for someone else to look after my child.
I opted to work part-time from the time my children were very young.
At one point I was paying over £1000 a month for two of my children to attend a nursery whilst I worked. Even now that they are 12, 9 and 6, and all in school, I still feel that I can only work part time. I wanted to try and create a balance in my life and that meant that I would simply have to suffer financially.
The parent guilt is a real thing. I see my married friends taking their children abroad, having family members available to take and pick their children up from school.
Whilst I do have help from my mum, she works two jobs and has already been a parent. I wanted to prove to myself and my children that, because I made the decision to have the children and made the poor decisions around the fathers of my children, I should be the one to provide for them.
Although Universal Credit helps with rent, childcare costs and some general living expenses, I know that I will be living nose to tail until my children are much older. Trying to juggle school, work and time for myself can make it almost impossible to find a full time job which pays enough to help us to live comfortably.
Not only am I unable to take a full-time job, but I also find that I am penalised for being a single parent when it comes to renting. I currently live with my mother, my brother, his daughter and my three children. We all share the rent so that we can live in a nice area with more space for the children and, for a time, it worked. I now know that my children need their own space but have hit a stumbling block when trying to branch out into our own home. The rental market is in a state of low supply and high demand, and I find that I don’t get offered viewings when I say that some of my income is made up of Universal Credit because it is not a ‘reliable’ source of income.
When will there be a time when single parents are not judged and pushed aside, just because we seek the financial help which is meant for us to use?