My mum was what you might call a coper. Resilient. Resourceful. Someone who just got on with it. As a single mum raising my brothers and I on a council estate in the 80s she could feed all three of us a healthy meal for a couple of quid and we were always well turned out. You’d never have guessed how tough it was. She didn’t let on. At least not often.
Then there was the time when she got accepted to teacher training college and finally had a chance to fulfil her dreams and her potential. As a professional with a decent salary she’d have been able to afford a better life for us all. But the cost of childcare and lack of financial support made it impossible for her to accept the offer, so she remained trapped in a low paid job instead. That did get to her. Then there was the time an MP said on the news that single mums like her should give their kids up for adoption. That made us all feel like crying. She did her best, but it was hard to escape the borrowing and begging, the scrimping and scraping, the worrying and the constant, endless stigma and judgement of other people. The truth is, we all knew how tough it was.
Fast forward to 2001 and I became a single mum myself. Like my mum, I worked hard, I forked out for childcare, I battled with rip-off landlords and I just about got by. Some weeks I had £5 to feed myself and my son for the week. There were times I felt stressed, isolated and trapped. I used Gingerbread when I was struggling. I got advice, and I connected to people in the same boat. It was good to know there was an organisation out there fighting our corner. In Gingerbread’s 100th year, I’m proud to have become a trustee with Gingerbread so I can help others.
For me a major turning point came when the introduction of tax credits meant that I could afford childcare and I could work more hours, building up a career. Student support meant I could study for a degree. The right kind of help meant I could escape the poverty trap and make a better life for us. Today I’m fortunate enough to have a rewarding career and financial security. My son is almost 18 and we have a comfortable life.
We are lucky. But I worry that for single parents today the same opportunities are shrinking away. Gingerbread’s report published today to mark its centenary shows that over two thirds of single parents are in work but many remain in poverty. Sadly that’s forecast to worsen as changes to Universal Credit hit. The number of single parents on zero hour contracts and in insecure self-employment has risen sharply in the last decade. So much needs to change if single parents are to access secure, flexible work that pays enough to keep food on the table.
In 2018 we can be glad that single parents are no longer consigned to workhouses or their children branded ‘bastards’ as they were generations ago. But there is no room for complacency and no time to look back. After 100 years, Gingerbread will carry on fighting the corner of single parent families, challenging attitudes and policies that put barriers in the way of them living fulfilling lives. We won’t ever stop, until single parent families have the same opportunities to thrive as any other type of family.
Today Gingerbread marks its centenary year. Follow @Gingerbread and #Gingerbread100 for updates.