Earlier this year I had the honor of attending an event orgainsed by the charity Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parents in the UK. I was asked to write a speech, speaking about my experiences as a single parent in the pandemic and subsequently what has it been like coming out of the pandemic for me as a single parent. Here is the speech I made to MPs and guests at the House of Commons in March 2022. 'I am Carly single Mum to Ezra who is almost 4 so was not even 2 when we first went into the pandemic. I do not co-parent so I am doing the job of two.
I am really pleased to be here talking to you and being given the opportunity to share my experiences and have a voice heard on behalf of single parents. I am grateful to Gingerbread for giving me and 1000’s 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, when you have got the time, energy, or headspace to do it because you’re busy being a single parent Gingerbread is there in your corner doing it for you. And that's been so important to me. It’s just knowing there, fighting for change, reminding you that the struggles are in fact real but you are not alone.
So I want to start with a bit of context which I think is important for the subjects we are talking about. Obviously, I am a white woman, able-bodied, straight, and by default this provides me with many opportunities and experiences of the world that other single parents just don't have access to. I have a degree and a Masters and I now work almost full time for a national charity in a senior role. This context is important particularly when we’re talking about the cost of living, especially here in London, and the reliance on Universal Credit. I’m highlighting this because I am talking about my experiences but there are many single parents who haven't had the same opportunities as me and are fighting bigger and harder battles.
I’m preaching to the converted here when I say parenting is a challenge. It is tough, it is practically tough, Emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially tough. Single parenting is twice if not more as tough. 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.
It’s important to acknowledge that it has been two years but we're also very much still seeing the challenges of that and the impacts and effects of that on us single parents.
The challenges have changed throughout those 2 years, what I was experiencing in terms of challenges a year plus ago compared to now is different but they keep coming and I think we’re still waiting for the let-up you know. I had this moment when I was writing this where I thought I don't know what's been harder being in the pandemic or coming out of it the last few months. Financially coming out of the pandemic has been brutal.
But one of the similar feelings that came up throughout and continue to is this feeling as a single parent that you were left behind, you're sort of missed off, forgotten or you're just overlooked a lot of the time. We are very much not in this together.
When I reflect on the pandemic what was so tough for single parents during the pandemic was the isolation that we were forced into. My networks are essential to my single-parent journey, and well-being, they are the difference between making this all possible and not. I think decision makers are rarely experiencing life like a lot of us, this is not a new phenomenon but it was really bought to the surface during the pandemic and the impact of it was really felt by us.
Housing and environments were very challenging in the pandemic and continue to be.
I want people to understand that due to our social and economical circumstances we are far more likely to be in crap housing and environments. For me, this is due to both finances and a huge amount of discrimination I have experienced when it comes to housing.
And boy did this feel hard in the pandemic.
Not having a garden, not having nice outdoor space nearby, I just have multiple car parks with an extraordinary amount of fly-tipping which was not collected in a pandemic. Your home and environment are really put into focus when you’re stuck in it in a way you’ve never been before. And you really feel those disparities.
Coming out of the pandemic (if we are out of it now, who even knows) these continue to be real issues and challenges for us.
Our housing and environments haven't changed post-pandemic we can just leave them more often now, that's is of course we can afford to.
The cost of living crisis and reduction of UC has been well documented. I still can't believe that the reduction to UC went ahead despite the campaigns and highlights of much this would impact us. We didn't need the uplift during a pandemic when we couldn't do anything, we need it now when everything is so unaffordable. It very much felt like the uplift was given because lots of fresh eyes were on UC and now it's not its been taken away when people need it the most with no information or support to help single parents make that work. How do I suddenly find an extra £80 a month that's just been taken away from me?
On top of that UC is not being uplifted in line with inflation, and neither are salaries for most of us. I have one income, just one and it is not clear from our Government how we are expected to make this work.
I work 4 days a week, use my parents for childcare but they both still work so it's limited. But the reality is my salary all goes on rent, childcare, council tax, and now very high household bills. It's all gone.
So I rely on an amount from UC which is not sufficient to cover my outgoings in London with a child and becomes increasingly harder with everything rising so much. I use credit cards, I have debt, and I repay some of that debt every month but the reality is it's just a vicious cycle as we know the debt is. But I am relying on that by the end of the month more and more. I touched on the fact that networks, getting out and seeing people is so crucial to me as a single parent and the well-being of both of us. And I think I should be able to do this, I work almost full time so this essential part of me and my son's life shouldn't be such a challenge or come into question whether I can do it or not.
I am nervous, like so many others about finances and how bad it will get. I think about what is the tipping point? This isn’t sustainable so what happens? How does this end?
I want to end with this favorite quote I always use about single parenting from Helen Thorn. ‘Somebody once said to me you’re not a single parent. You’re a double parent and that really *enter swear word for ultimate impact* changed the narrative.
And I think its so important. So important that the narrative does start to change, to acknowledge the realities of single parenting. Everything is double and yet we end up with half.
Systems such as UC, CMS, childcare, schools, employers need to start basing their decisions and policies on the fact that we are doing double but we do not have double the finances, time or opportunities. And this is what causes the real struggles and inequalities for single parents.'