It’s been quite the week for ‘mum guilt’.
That all consuming feeling, that especially impacts working single mums like me; of trying to juggle it all while feeling like we can’t manage.
I solo parent my three young boys – aged 9, 5 and 1 – alongside working 17.5 hours a week. It is always a balancing act.
And thanks to the mixed messages of the Tories, mum guilt has been in overdrive as we face a new and impossible standard to meet – working full-time for economic reasons while simultaneously spending enough time at home to look after our kids.
On 25 October, the DWP confirmed details of changes to the operation of Universal Credit first announced in the Spring Budget.
Worryingly for many single parents, the changes will mean that lead carers of three- to twelve-year-olds on Universal Credit face a massive increase in the amount of time they are expected to be in work or applying for jobs – up to a maximum of 30 hours, or a slightly lower equivalent if they earn more than the National Living Wage (NLW).
This is an almost doubling of the current requirements for lead carers of three- to four-year-olds from 16 hours, and will leave many single parents struggling to find balance in a system that already feels exhausting and stressful.
But just a few days after this concerning announcement, senior Tory MP, Miriam Cates blamed the rise in school children using nappies on an economic system that demands, ‘even mothers of small children leave their infants in daycare to return to the workplace.’
What do they want? Mums in the workplace or at home caring for their kids?
This government doesn’t seem to understand the daily pressures single mums face, or just how hard we already work both inside and outside the home.
Threatening us with sanctions like naughty children just highlights that no matter how hard we work as single mums, nothing will be enough to satisfy the Tories.
And as this more punishing regime comes into force, perhaps Cates might want to have a word with her colleagues.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, said, ‘We are pulling down barriers that stop parents working and fulfilling their potential, because we know full time work not only benefits mum and dad but the whole family too.’
Frankly, I don’t feel that I’ve had barriers removed, or that these new proposals will help.
The government insists their childcare plan and the changes to Universal Credit show they are ‘backing working families.’
Well, my family doesn’t feel backed.
Doing it all solo leaves little time to shower let alone have any much lauded ‘me time’ that we’re told to prioritise
I’ve worked all my life and began receiving Universal Credit in 2018 to top up my wages.
My youngest, aged one, attends nursery in a neighbouring London Borough – the nearest one available despite being on numerous waiting lists that I joined even while I was pregnant with him.
I’m not alone, only 66% of local authorities in England surveyed by the Family and Childcare Trust have sufficient childcare for three to four year olds.
Things don’t get easier when they start school either.
A key issue for me and many others is the availability of ‘wrap-around’ care, when schools are available for longer than the standard day by providing things like breakfast or after-school clubs.
Although the school my children attend offers wrap-around care before and after school, it’s full.
So my eldest accompanies me on the nursery run.
One thing that the DWP seems ignorant about is how many hours, unpaid, are added on to the 30 hours claimants need to work.
Even on the days I have childcare for all my children, I still have an hour-long trip to and from work – two hours travel that doesn’t count towards my total.
That’s because DWP rules state lead carers like me should be available for a commute of up to 90-minutes to work.
Working 30 hours a week, taking five unpaid lunch hours and travelling three hours a day means I don’t need 30 hours of childcare a week – but 50.
My working days start stressed and end exhausted – it’s no wonder that MPs like Cates think we aren’t spending enough time at home.
Doing it all solo leaves little time to shower let alone have any much lauded ‘me time’ that we’re told to prioritise.
I lack the patience to deal with the inevitable kids’ meltdowns and my energy for homework, story books and cooking healthy meals is severely depleted – teeing up even more mum guilt.
And because of the way support is calculated, I know I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m earning above the National Living Wage.
The new 30 hours threshold will be calculated as 30 hours of work on the NLW. That means while I will increase my hours as my children get older, I luckily won’t currently be forced to work the full 30 hours.
Single parents on lower pay won’t be afforded the same privilege though – and in my work with Single Parent Rights, a campaign group – I speak to them every day.
One, Sophie-May, told me that she works 16 hours a week earning £10.52 an hour.
She can’t increase her hours due to a lack of childcare so this policy could force her to leave her job, search for new employment and pay at least £380 per month for someone to watch her kids.
Sophie-May says she will be ‘crippled’ by the new changes, and she isn’t alone.
It seems with the Tories, the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.
Neither Miriam Cates nor Mel Stride, with their polar opposite views of what role single mothers play in society – seem to have understood our realities. Most single parents want to work when they have the support around them to do so and want to be there for our children as much as possible.
Single Parent Rights aren’t giving up this fight – we are urgently calling on the Government to reverse these changes and are asking the Work and Pensions Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into the impact of this policy.
The DWP says they want changes that will make things better for working families – it’s time they showed it.
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