For 20 years my journey was full-time employment, home ownership, marriage, credit & socialising whilst blissfully unaware of what it meant to need to turn to the benefits system and what it must be like to be a single mum. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t really happy, I had a journey as we all have and at that stage it was seeping through the cracks as depression, anger, frustration, attitude, poor choices, binge drinking and self-harm. But that was then, and that journey gave me the insight I needed to understand some societal issues that have impacted my ‘new life’.
When I became a parent in 2012 my plan was return to work after maternity leave on a flexible / part-time basis, and knowing I would be single I was determined to improve my long-term prospects and so I embarked on a law degree, with the belief that this would help me escape working for below ‘living’ wage. I say ‘living’ loosely as if you have been following me to date and read my blogs about inflation you will know that I do not think ‘living’ wage is sufficient at all, at least not with the cost of living being what it is, which is a real issue.
My employer sold the business when I was on maternity leave, and whilst protected by TUPE the new job role would not offer any flexibility and where it was situated did not offer any parking, the pay was still low and I would have been required to work every other Saturday. Faced with the reality that my commute, parking and working day would have taken me away from my child 12 hours a day and every other Saturday and the calculation of childcare (even with a percentage of help) made me realise that returning to work there was not an option.
I had a small bundle of life in my hands that needed me to feed her, love her, nurture her and hold her hand during those first few fragile years of learning what it was to be human, and so I decided that I would look for another part-time job. With this came the nightmare of applying for benefits; what was I entitled to? How did I do it? I’m not a stupid woman but that system is very complex to get your head around, and from the very first phone call you realise that you are treated very differently as a human being and you are no longer a colleague, but a piece of * on the bottom of somebody’s shoe. This was quite heart-breaking given my 20yrs of contribution and never whinging about those who needed to use that pot.
The design of the KIH Bed was quite accidental and that story has been told so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much but I spent years studying, creating and sustaining the business and constantly trying to find the right ‘mix’ so that I could work for somebody else and enjoy a secure income. But, wages are just too low, either that or the cost of living is too high. For years I paid between £6-800 pcm in private rental properties, mainly because ‘normal’ landlords wouldn’t have me (single mum on benefits) so a nice long-term £550 pcm property was out of reach. This was SO hard.
I did all that I could work wise but I realised that when you become a mum you are effectively constructively dismissed by society. When you are a mum, you do not lose your work ethic, but, you do have a child to look after, and it should not be that hard to do both, work must pay AND be in sync with the school hours with paid and unpaid leave, as through the summer you effectively (on archaic wages) losing all of your wage on childcare anyway, and of course many single mums do not have the dad sharing that time with the child. (although I am very aware that many dads are brilliant at this).
In a nutshell, because of the issues of low pay and historic work patterns the only hope for many parents is self-employment. This is your only hope of getting a decent pay rise (long-term) and not having a nightmare every time it’s school holidays or sports day or afternoon tea at the school and such like. I never meet a parent who regrets being self-employed and I never meet a parent who is truly at peace with missing those tender years because they did not have any flexibility with work.
I specifically support single mums because I get what they’re dealing with. To have an extensive skill set and to be unable to use it is upsetting and it to consequently struggle for years because you are dismissed as an employee or forced into work that doesn’t suit you for low pay because it is in school hours is quite simply wrong.