An unbalancing act – juggling work and family as a single parent

“I feel…that I’m letting the kids down because I’m juggling too much. I seem to be always saying no, putting them off.” – Emma

At Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families in England and Wales, we hear time and again from single parents like Emma who tell us how difficult it is for them to balance working life with taking sole responsibility for their children.

With escalating childcare costs, a lack of part-time or shorter hours jobs and wages which relegate many working families to life below the poverty line, trying to strike the balance between being their child’s only parent and their family’s only worker can be almost impossible.

“It’s stressful as you are forced to try to find work which is not available, and most jobs that are available are not suitable to coincide with the role of a single parent.” – Catherine

In a difficult economic climate, finding any work can be a challenge – let alone work which offers the flexibility necessary for those raising children on their own. In a recent survey of over 500 single parents, Gingerbread found that 62 per cent had seen no or very few jobs advertised at part-time hours, 7 per cent had seen no or very few jobs advertised within school hours; and 97 per cent had seen no or very few jobs advertised as flexible in any other way.

The recent Welfare Reform Bill means that single parents whose youngest child is five (rather than seven as previously) will now be forced to look for work in order to receive benefits.  That’s 124,000 more single parents inBritainjoining the search for that needle in a haystack – a family-friendly job.

“Lots of European countries are doing [flexible working].  Why can’t the UK do it?” –Sharon

But a few changes to the way we look at work, from encouraging a more flexible outlook among employers, to supporting childcare costs, to increasing the support available to help single parents into work, could help make the juggling act easier for more single parent families.

A move away from the rigid and often unnecessary full-time, nine to five employment model could not only allow single parents to use their talents and skills in jobs that fit with their caring responsibilities, but would open up a wider pool of potential candidates for employers to choose from.

The myth of the ‘lazy’ single parent has to be broken, and real thought given to how we can help them into the workplace.  Single parents do a great job in difficult circumstances, and have many skills to offer as part of our workforce.  It’s time we made use of them.  As one of our single dad members said recently:

“Give us a break and an opportunity – we want to work and we need to work!” – Roberto

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Gingerbread is the UK charity working with single parent families. They provide expert information and advice, along with membership and training opportunities, to single parents and their families, and campaign against poverty, disadvantage and stigma to promote fair and equal treatment and opportunity for them.

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