I found out tonight that I may very well soon become a single mother again. I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I think it may be a good thing. My children’s father and I have only stayed living together for the children and because we’d both struggle financially apart. We’ve made each other unhappy for ever such a long time. He’s a good bloke and deserves a clean break, so on one hand I think ‘Good on him’ and I know I can cope on my own. In fact, I do quite well on my own. You only have yourself to blame when things fuck up then. No more rows and honestly, a lot less loneliness for the both of us. I’ve been a single mum before which is a weird sort of advantage. It equips me with the courage and know how at least. It doesn’t scare me.
Then comes the scary bit though. As much as I’ve hated being supported financially by a man, a thought I hate even more is being at the mercy of the Job Centre. The last time I went to the Job Centre as a single mother, they genuinely asked me to list the illnesses my mother has, to prove that she’s not in a position to make the hour journey to me each day to look after my children, so that I can work. I did point out that if she was well enough, she’d be working, or if they found out that this disabled woman was not working and looking after children for free instead, they’d stop her benefits and make her work. The robotic man behind the desk, who clearly had a chip the size of a fucking dog on his shoulder looked at me furiously at this. He thought I was being smart. I wasn’t, I was pointing out a cold, hard fact. I’m not sure I can face going back to all that, but then I don’t have much choice, do I?
My son is three and at nursery for two and a half hours a day. Somebody please point me in the direction of jobs right next door to the school that are for two hours each afternoon, because the Job Centre are damned sure to claim that this dream job exists. I’ll be safe, sort of, until my son turns four in May. Then I’ll be on JSA, must spend no less than 35 hours per week seeking work and prove that I’m doing so, or be sanctioned. For those who aren’t aware, a sanction means no benefits for three months. Three months with no money to feed your children and I imagine this would affect your housing benefit in some way too. Grim eh? There are those out there who believe that the film that I recently wrote about I, Daniel Blake is a vast exaggeration of reality. It’s really not. The fact that that is soon to become my life again makes me feel sick. I don’t have an issue with working at all. In fact, I have worked and I’d love to work again. I’ve thrown myself so much into working for campaigns, homeless street outreach and Labour Party work, just to keep busy in that sense ever since I had my first child six years ago. For many months, I’ve been spending time looking through job sites. The problem is the hours. A lot of the mums at the school don’t work. One does, as her hand was forced by the Job Centre, but she only manages because she lives with her mum at 27, who takes her daughter to school and picks her up for her. I don’t have that. Not many jobs will accommodate the 10am-2pm shifts I’d require – that’s when my son is in school full time next September and the ones that do, particularly in London, are going to be getting hundreds and hundreds of applications, all from mums in exactly the same boat.
You know what though? I remain (probably naively) optimistic. I’ve made some fantastic connections in my time working in politics. I could still make something of myself one day, I hope. You just have to have the foresight and determination, while ultimately scrabbling about in the dirt for scraps, to remember that this is all only temporary. So, what with this new situation on the horizon and a potential move out of London in the mix there somewhere, I must look forward. Life is an adventure. It’s not always an easy one, but with a little help from my friends, I plan to soldier on and keep smiling. There’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be.
By The [ever optimistic] Breadline Mum