Single Parents – Exploding the myths
It can be a challenge bringing up children on your own, being solely responsible for their care and the family income. Many single parents, after separating from their partner, feel more secure and positive about their children’s wellbeing; however 47% of children in single parent families live in poverty, around twice the risk faced by children in couple families.
DWP benefit conditionality means single parents now need to look for paid work when their youngest child is 3 years old. Single Parents have to balance being the sole earner for their family with being the only or primary carer. This can be a significant barrier to finding suitable work that fits around caring responsibilities, and those in work often face high childcare costs, low wages and a lack of job security as well as increasing housing costs to come from one wage.
Single parents are not popular in some parts of society and with some of the media. Constant bombardment with words like ‘scrounger’ has a deeply corrosive effect. Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are. The language of ‘skivers versus strivers’ is particularly inappropriate when it comes to single parents, who are already working around the clock to care for their children. Such rhetoric drains confidence and self-esteem from those who desperately want to do the best for their children, to enable them to achieve their potential.
Two thirds of single parents are in paid work. As soon as their children reach the age of 12, this figure rises to nearly three quarters in work, which is the also the national average for mothers in relationships. However ongoing welfare reforms mean many single parents find contact with the benefits system and surrounding government rhetoric profoundly damaging and demoralising.
For example single parent Linda got in touch with OPFS seeking advice she was helped into paid work by JCP, but on a zero hour contract that failed to provide enough income for her family to escape poverty:
“I’ve been forcing into going to a foodbank to get by. It’s so demeaning. I’ve done everything the government has asked me to do but it’s such a struggle.”
Sandra a single parent from the Govan area was on the Work Programme but training to become a teaching assistant at the same time. However she found her Advisor was not supportive of this career option:
“My Advisor told me that I would find it hard to get a job as a Teaching Assistant, and that I should seek care work instead. That was a big knock to my confidence but I aim to pursue my dream.”
In another case, a single parent with two young children was so affected by benefit changes and sanctions that it “pushed her over the edge,” and she ended up on disability benefit.
“I couldn’t believe it, to be sanctioned because I couldn’t sign on at the right time. My daughter had been unwell and I have no-one to help so missed my time. I did call but they said they didn’t get the message.”
Single parents and their children often have to face stigma and judgemental attitudes based on myths, stereotypes, half-truths and prejudices.
In a recent survey nine out of ten single parents told us stigma still needs to be challenged and one in three said they had personally experienced it. We have set up the #ProudSingleParents campaign as when consulted single parents asked OPFS to confront stigma and highlight what is true and what is not.
OPFS is proud to be part of Glasgow City Council’s Poverty Leadership Panel campaign to challenge negative attitudes to poverty. As a society we should challenge negative attitudes towards people experiencing poverty and find out about the reasons why some families live on a low income and how it affects their lives. Poverty is not inevitable. Families experience poverty for many reasons, but its fundamental cause is not having enough money to cope with the circumstances in which they are living. It is neither natural nor acceptable. We all have a role to play in challenging poverty and recognising policy choices can make the difference to ensure all children can achieve their potential.
Let’s celebrate the diversity and achievements of single parents , while challenging the stereotypes and stigma which they often experience.
Head of Policy and Strategy