Our senior project manager, Katie Searle, shares her experience of breaking the bias as a single mum for International Women’s Day.
Being a single mum
For many the term ‘single mum’ comes with all kinds of connotations, most of which are negative. Those who find themselves in dire situations are given little sympathy and blamed because of their status as a single mum. I am a single mum, and it is not because I have somehow failed in life, rather it is because I wanted a happier life for myself than my marriage could provide and because I wanted to be a role model for my daughter, teaching her not to remain in relationships that do not fulfil her needs. I now have a good relationship with her dad, we are much happier being separated and we co-parent as well as possible given the circumstances.
I consider myself fortunate that I have a good job and can fully and independently provide for myself and my daughter, however I still see and am impacted by a system that favours men and couples. For example, if my salary falls into the higher wage bracket, my daughter’s child benefit is reduced. However, a couple both earning just under the threshold are not impacted despite their household income being much more than mine. I am not able to take advantage of married persons tax allowance and am penalised for being single when applying for a mortgage because there is only one income into my household. Relationships and marriage should not be entered into because of financial incentives.
An important lesson
Yet I still consider myself lucky. Many women have fallen victim to a system where they as the woman have been expected to give up or put their careers on hold to provide childcare. This means that when the relationship breaks down, they do not have the luxury of financial independence. To make matters worse, while there is a system in place to ‘ensure’ the non-resident parent pays maintenance support towards their children, in practice the system fails. Sanctions do not work and common accounting practices for self-employed business owners allow them to ‘hide’ their full income to pay less. Ultimately, if the non-resident parent is intent on not paying towards their children, there is little that can be done to make them do so, leaving women financially vulnerable and men able to walk away from their responsibilities with little consequence.
When I was 17 my parents’ marriage broke down and my dad left my mum in a lot of debt. She, like many women, trusted that her husband as the main earner was paying all the bills. I have seen similar situations with friends of mine where their husbands have entirely managed the family finances. The women have subsequently been left entirely out of their depth and sometimes in debt when they have found themselves having to manage alone. I have always maintained my own financial independence both before and during my marriage, and for me I think this is an important lesson for all women. You never know what’s round the corner, and particularly as a parent, you need to know you can take care of yourself and children if you need to.
Juggling work and childcare
I don’t believe that my relationship status has any impact on my ability to be a good parent or my capabilities at work. I don’t refer to myself as a ‘single mum’ because as far as I am concerned, the two things are mutually exclusive. I am no different to any other working parent – I have a good network of friends and family around me for support, I juggle working and childcare, and I do the best I can every day for my daughter. Unfortunately, the system does not support this as the norm and penalises those women who find themselves lone parenting while society looks down on them.