Episode 6 – End Young Parent Poverty: interview with Kelly-Marie Wilson and Marion Fellows MP

Last updated: 06/05/2023

End Young Parent Poverty

Parents under 25 are entitled to a lower amount of benefits than parents aged 25 and over.

Find out more about One Parent Families Scotland’s campaign to award young parents under 25  a top-up payment through the Scottish Child Payment.

In our sixth episode, we speak to Kelly-Marie, young single mum to her 18 month old son about financial challenges of being a young parent. We also talk about challenges of securing childcare and accessing flexible employment and training opportunities. Marion Fellows shares her views on what can be done at UK and Scottish Government policy level to improve the social security system to better support young parents under 25, who currently receive a lower rate of Universal Credit than parents over 25.

Listen to the podcast below.

You can contribute your experiences of being a single parent to future podcasts by leaving a voice message here.

Subscribe via Apple, Google, Spotify or our RSS feed.

Applying for universal credit

See all our information for single parents about Universal Credit, including how to claim, how it is calculated and how it is paid.

Read more

Podcast transcript

00:00:00:00 – 00:00:36:21
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Hello and welcome to episode six of the OPFS podcast. This episode is coming to you from Motherwell and from Marian Fellows’ constituency office, and I’m joined by Marian Fellows MP for Wishaw and Motherwell herself, as well as young parent Kelly Marie and her son, who is being very quiet in the background there. So to start off with my I just want to ask you to give yourself a little bit of an introduction to say something perhaps about the constituency which we’re in and also what led you into politics in the first place.

00:00:37:10 – 00:02:33:01
Marion Fellows MP
Well, we’re in Motherwell, my Motherwell constituency office and I’m Marion Fellows MP for Motherwell and Wishaw since 2015 and that was a huge shock when I got elected. I stood a few times for various posts in the Scottish Parliament. I got elected as a councilor and after the 2014 referendum I decided to throw my hat back in the ring for the Westminster seat.

And I, much to my surprise, got elected and I’ve been elected twice since then as well. I got involved in politics because I like helping folk I suppose basically. My background was as a trade unionist. I worked in further education and I spent a lot of time working with students as well and trying to help solve their problems.

And basically I fell into it by accident. And I think because I’m older and I was older when I got elected, I’m putting a lifetime of experience in lots of different things, and I think that’s been to my advantage. When I became an MP, the first thing, one of the first things I did, was we set up a poverty action network, which is where I first really got in touch with One Parent Families Scotland, and was really made aware of the fabulous work they do and how much they help young people.

But single parents have a really hard time and they’re not always recognized. And there’s even, I think even still a bit of…people think must have done something wrong to be a single parent. And that often is not the case. It is simply circumstances have changed and they’re left to cope. And as a society, if we don’t look after those that need help, then we’re not worth a button. And that’s just how I feel.

00:02:33:19 – 00:02:41:09
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Kelly-Marie, I’ll just turn to you. Just give yourself a wee introduction and tell us how you got in touch with OPFS and maybe just a little bit about yourself.

00:02:41:23 – 00:03:11:14
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well hi, I’m Kelly-Marie, I’m 18 and I am when I was 16 and I got in touch with One Parent Families Scotland through my family nurse and she recommended it as a good time for my son and me to find other people in a similar to our situation. And just giving us both time to bond with new people as well as getting me a break for four hours a week.

00:03:12:12 – 00:03:19:02
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Kelly-Ann, you were, was it 16? When you had Aaron, yeah. I’m so impressed by the way – he’s just sitting on you lap and he has gorgeous eyes. It’s very difficult not to be distracted. What would you say it’s like being a young parent?

00:03:28:01 – 00:03:46:19
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, there’s a lot about stigma around being a young parent, but to be fair, it’s just the exact same as being a parent if you’re 30 or 40. It is just to the social side of it that’s different. But, raising your child, it doesn’t really affect you what age you are.

00:03:47:04 – 00:03:48:00
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)

00:03:48:00 – 00:03:50:06
Marion Fellows MP
You’re younger and fitter?

00:03:50:13 – 00:03:51:01
Kelly-Marie Wilson
That too.

00:03:51:07 – 00:04:00:00
Marion Fellows MP
And more energy. Yeah. So I mean it is certainly a great credit to you the way he’s just sitting there.

00:04:00:20 – 00:04:05:08
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
What do you think the challenges of being a young parent?

00:04:05:08 – 00:05:07:23
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, through my experience, I’ve received a lot of negative feedback from it. For example, when I was pregnant with Aaron, I started bleeding and they thought I was going to miscarry. I’d called triage and they told me to go on through to Wishaw General A&E and go straight up to triage, tell them what’s happened because I needed help. And the receptionist had me sitting in A&E for six and a half hours while bleeding, and no one would take me seriously and I don’t know if that was in regards to my age. But I told them exactly what I had to say and my mum was on the phone to me the full time because I was in a state and it wasn’t until my mum came down and started arguing with the receptionist was I seen to, and luckily it wasn’t a miscarriage, but that was really my first example of how bad people can be towards younger people.

00:05:07:23 – 00:05:09:23
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
That must have been really distressing.

00:05:10:00 – 00:05:15:00
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Yeah, it was. It was an awful experience. I don’t recommend anyone going through that.

00:05:15:03 – 00:05:20:03
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
And do you think that perhaps if you had been a few years older, you might not have had that experience?

00:05:20:03 – 00:05:27:22
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Yeah, I definitely think that if I did look a bit older, I would have been taken a lot more seriously and those happen quite a lot.

00:05:28:15 – 00:05:53:03
Marion Fellows MP
And people make judgments on you because of your age that have absolutely no relation to what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. That’s a really hard thing to be in as well. You were very calm when you related that story, I envy you your calmness as I don’t think I’d have been as calm or as brave if I’d been in that position.

00:05:54:03 – 00:06:05:13
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
And you mentioned coming into contact with One Parent Familes Scotland, and that you’ve had something to do with the projects that they’re running. What sort of support have they given you?

00:06:05:16 – 00:06:47:19
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, I started the Best Beginnings course and that was just a club where they meet up every Thursday between ten and one at Orbison neighbourhood centre. And the creche staff would look after the kids and we would try to bond and make some friends our own age that could relate to our situations as well as giving us best tips on what people might not tell you about raising children and things like that.

It was just really somewhere where you could sit there, judgement free and tell people what you were facing in your parenthood with your child and see if people could relate to it, and that was a great.

00:06:47:19 –
Marion Fellows MP
Peer support is really useful because so don’t feel different. You know someone else is going through the same thing and it really can help and any parent can feel that. But I think especially for a young parent, it’s even more important that they know that they’re not alone.

00:07:05:07 – 00:07:08:13
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Yeah, absolutely. And are you working at the moment?

00:07:08:23 – 00:07:33:00
Kelly-Marie Wilson
No, I’m currently a full time mum and I don’t really have…I have a great support system, but I don’t have anyone that can look after Aaron. My parents are old and they’re quite unfit. They can’t pick up Aaron. My dad’s just recently suffered from blood disease, sepsis. Since then, he’s not made a full recovery, so I don’t really have anyone to fall back on so I can go and get a job.

00:07:33:10 – 00:07:41:17
Kelly-Marie Wilson
So now I’m just waiting to see if I could get Aaron into a nursery, even though he is so young, so I can go and start working.

00:07:42:00 – 00:07:49:04
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
And are you on Universal Credit? Yeah. And so you’ve been on Universal Credit more or less since I was born.

00:07:49:04 – 00:07:52:01
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Yes. Yes, I was pregnant. I’ve been on Universal Credit.

00:07:52:08 – 00:08:09:07
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Right. Okay. 55% of children with young mums in Scotland are in poverty. And over half of these, which is actually 54%, are in single parent families. What do you think needs to happen to end poverty in young parent families?

00:08:09:13 – 00:10:12:15
Marion Fellows MP
Well, I think at the moment the Scottish economy is doing what it can, but it’s it mitigates a lot. But the real problem is, I think that when we had COVID and other people got the £20 uplift and nobody stopped immediately afterwards. And since then we’ve had the cost of living crisis and it really is difficult to exist, never mind live on universal credit.

But if you’re younger and there’s real penalties against you being under 25, it’s assumed that you will have in place a support network and that, you know, other people will look after you. And that isn’t always possible and it isn’t actually the way things should be. No one should be penalized on an age basis. We got rid of the penalties of being older, if you like, you know, no fixed retirement age, etc..

Now you can stay in work as long as you’re able and as long as you want. But it’s very difficult for young people under 25 at the moment because they just don’t get the correct benefit. I’ve done work with Centrepoint and work with young people, homeless young people as well. And it’s, it’s almost as if you are being tagged simply and it is the fact that you’re tagged and treated differently because you’re under 25.

But that is wrong. That is always been wrong. And even if you go to work, you’ll get a lower rate of pay and that’s allowed because of the minimum wage and they call it a living wage. But it’s not, it it’s going to be less for yourself when you start working. It’s, it’s absolutely ridiculous. And sometimes, if you look at things, you think, how did that happen?Well, it’s this patriarchal society where you’re expected to behave in a certain way. And if you behave differently or your circumstances change, you’re penalized. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

00:10:12:16 – 00:10:31:17
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Just for people listening, it is the case that if you are under 25, you get less universal credit than if you’re over 25. It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent or a single person, it’s the same rate for everyone. Were you aware of that difference?

00:10:31:21 – 00:10:46:18
Kelly-Marie Wilson
No, not really to be fair. I knew that what I was getting to live on wasn’t enough, but I thought that was the same for everyone. And when I found out it was different because I was young, it kind of gave me a shock.

00:10:46:18 – 00:11:57:06
Marion Fellows MP
And that that’s a penalty on Aaron as well as yourself. And it just fundamentally is not right. And as part of the Westminster team SNP Westminster team, I’ve been, you know, we raised this issue continuously and we keep raising it because it’s so important that you should not be treated differently and you want to work, but you know that you’ll get a lesser rate in some jobs.

If it’s a minimum pay job, for example, you get paid less than someone else who’s 25 and that makes no sense. And the penalties that this government in Westminster have imposed on people – the two child limit, all of that, it defies, it just stops people living the way they should. Our society, I think, should be judged by many treat the most deserving.

00:11:47:09 –
Marion Fellows MP
The fact that you are in your circumstances should not be an impediment to you getting the same as someone else. Just being under 25.

00:11:58:00 – 00:12:27:05
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Yeah, I mean effectively what it means is in financial terms is it means that there’s a difference of young single parents are now £65 worse off per month and young couple parents are £100 worth of per month. So in your case, Kelly Marie, that’s £65 less than somebody who’s in the same circumstances as you and has a child and they would be getting £65 more per month.

00:12:27:05 – 00:12:29:18
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
What would that amount of money mean to you?

00:12:30:06 – 00:13:21:14
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, it would mean I could live a bit more comfortably, like the money covers the house and and it covers food for me and Aaron, but that extra £65 would mean that if I needed anything new I could supply that, but with the money I have now, I can’t do that and I’m relying heavily on the baby bank in Hamilton for his clothes and some toys even, especially Christmas was a struggle, being on my own with the little money I had.

So that extra £65 would do a lot for me. And if I needed new vests, I wouldn’t need to go all the way to Hamilton to get some. I’d be able to pick them up but at this point, that extra £5 could mean £5 off the electricity, which I can’t afford. to do.

00:13:21:20 – 00:13:43:14
Marion Fellows MP
And that’s it. That’s the injustice of it all. And that difference in the age then it’s just it’s ludicrous because, as I said before, it impacts not just on, Kelly-Marie, but on Aaron as well. And we should look after, society should look after its most vulnerable. And who’s more vulnerable than a one year old boy?

00:13:44:01 – 00:13:54:15
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Absolutely. And if you did have the child care and all of the support that you needed, what is it you want to do? What is your ambition? What is your passion in life?

00:13:54:19 – 00:14:22:23
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, my dream job is to work for Rape Crisis Scotland. I was sadly raped when I was 14 and and I’ve kind of turned that into a passion on how to help other people through my own life experience. And so that is my dream. And it does take two years volunteering. And so I was willing to pick up a part time job, but if I did that on the minimum wage, I don’t have enough to live off.

So I’m stuck in rut at the minute.

00:14:24:16 – 00:14:34:12
Marion Fellows MP
That’s that is absolutely awful. Would you need to gain anyqualifications to do it?

00:14:35:02 – 00:14:58:01
Kelly-Marie Wilson
I need a counseling qualification and I want to get a special children’s qualification so I can work with people that are under 16 as well, because I feel that their voices need to be heard just as much as someone of legal age. Because going through the process for me, there is only one person that could deal with me because no one was qualified for someone my age.

00:14:58:16 – 00:15:25:08
Marion Fellows MP
Oh, you know, it’s a great credit on you and to you that you’re taking what was a horrendous experience and turning it into something positive so that you can look to the future to try and help others who are on the same page and well done. And I don’t want to sound patronizing when I say that. I mean, it shows a strength and courage that isn’t always there for young folks and well done.

00:15:25:08 – 00:15:25:20
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Thank you.

00:15:26:03 – 00:15:58:20
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Marianne, I was just going to say, we know that parents and people with caring responsibilities do face barriers to work. And it can be even harder for some groups of people, such as single parents and disabled parents as well. And I know that you are a disability spokesperson for the SNP as well. If one person falls into more than one category: they’re a young mum, as in Kelly-Marie’s case and they’ve also got caring responsibilities, what can we do to try to break down these barriers?

00:15:58:20 – 00:16:12:07
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Because clearly Kelly-Marie has got a lot to give. She’s lived experience, she’s got an ambition to work for Rape Crisis Scotland, to turn her very negative experience into something that we could all learn from and benefit from.

00:16:12:12 – 00:18:51:12
Marion Fellows MP
Yeah, I think in general there has to be provision, proper childcare provision, which is growing and there are opportunities etc. But first of all getting Aaron into a nursery. It’s not easy because for a long, long time the provision wasn’t increased. And I remember myself when I first went back to work when my eldest was a year old, I wanted to go back to work. I couldn’t find anywhere. And it was really, it has improved a bit, but still not enough. Although you will be able to access it if you can for if you can find the right nursery, you should be able to get the right childcare, but quite often that means is that council nurseries, for example, they don’t do late hours etc. etc. but I think for someone like yourself.. I don’t know if you had to leave school early?

And so sometimes what happens is…I’m a former further education lecturer,so I know the benefits of college and how much it can help to gain your qualifications later on. Not necessarily at school. It’s often a much better experience for someone like yourself to be in college than it was being in school and you can then acquire the qualifications you need.

That should be much easier and made much more simple. But the kind of thing you want to do, not every college campus will do so again that involves travel. But again, it comes back to, you want to be able to leave Aaron with someone you trust and you know will look after him properly. That requires often money. It also requires time and effort on your part, sourcing it so I’d love to wave a magic wand and I knew you’d like one waved as well.Progress has been made and it doesn’t do you any good for me to say things are better for you than they would be if you lived in England or Wales or Northern Ireland.

But we still have to strive to make things better because you at the moment can’t contribute to the greater good the way you want to. So we have to try to make that happen. And one of the ways that can happen is if you get the proper rate of money from benefits that it would be easier for someone who’s 25 or over to access these things.

00:18:49:10 –
Marion Fellows MP
And that’s the barrier we have to break down.

00:18:52:01 – 00:19:07:02
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
And I know as an MP, Marion, your focus is trying to influence at UK level. Do you think there are any signs of positive changes for young parents and their children, things that could be realistically achieved at Westminster level?

00:19:07:16 – 00:20:55:07
Marion Fellows MP
Of I don’t want to sound absolutely hopelessly pessimistic, but when universal credit itself needs to be looked and scrapped and we need to have a proper benefit system that allows people to live a decent life and to look to the future and be actively…t’s an investment. Benefits are an investment in people’s future, but that’s not how it’s seen at Westminster and Labor,

Tory government have absolutely no intention of getting rid of universal credit and getting a system that’s fairer. They’ve no intention of changing the rules for under 25. And that’s really important. That’s that’s what has to be done to improve lives and to make folk like yourself, Kelly-Marie, an active participant in the economy. I mean, one day you’ll pay tax.

You know, and that helps other people. And that’s really what needs to happen. And that kind of critical change won’t, unfortunately won’t happen. Since 2015, fold like Alison Thewliss and David Linden have really focused on the younger age group. And Alison especially, she’s the one who found the ‘Rape Clause’, they call it, to make sure that if you have, you know, when you have more than two children or you don’t get the benefit, all of these things just need to be sorted because otherwise you can’t contribute effectively and provide more for Aaron and then you’re able at present.

And that’s, that’s not, that’s not something that anyone should think is okay because it isn’t.

00:20:55:21 – 00:21:17:09
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
When we ran a campaign at One Parent Families Scotland previously about this, we focused a lot on single parents like you, Kelly-Marie, and we wrote a letter to Westminster and the DWP came back to us and they said the reason for the discrepancy between ages is the fact that young people are more likely to live with their families.

And we know, however, from the numbers of young parents that are claiming housing benefit, that actually that is not the case and that they wouldn’t be claiming housing benefit if they weren’t living independently. So what have you got to say about that Kelly-Marie?

00:21:34:21 – 00:21:58:04
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Well, I think I know a couple of people that are my age that have children, and I think only one of them still stays with their parents. Everyone wants the best start for their child and that does include having your own space. You don’t want to try and raise a child with your parent breathing down your throat because you’re not doing things right.

00:21:58:17 – 00:21:58:22
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)

00:21:59:00 – 00:22:02:00
Marion Fellows MP
Bad enough on Granny’s visits!

00:22:02:00 – 00:22:36:24
Kelly-Marie Wilson
So , yeah. I wanted Aaron to have his own room and I wanted to be able to make him dinner in the way I want to. Or if he wanted to cry, I could let him cry without wondering if I’m interrupting someone that’s sleeping for work in the morning or anything. So yeah I wanted to move out just for the sake of my parents and for me. And again I only know one person that’s got a child and is still at home. [child crying]

00:22:36:24 – 00:22:45:12
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Are you ok? Is he ok? He’s done so well! And honestly, he’s the youngest podcast member I’ve ever had!

00:22:45:12 – 00:22:48:09
Marion Fellows MP
Been better behaved than most adults!

00:22:49:09 – 00:24:11:16
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Something that OPFS has been discussing as an organization in terms of how to tackle some of the inequalities in the Social Security system, is could these inequalities be mitigated in Scotland now that Scotland has some devolved powers in terms of social security? And what we were thinking is if the Scottish Child Payment, which has recently been extended to include not just under sixes and it’s given to all parents who are on universal credit, whether they could be a top up payment using the Scottish Child Payment system to young parents to mitigate that.

Do you think that approach is something that would be workable?

00:23:38:18 – 00:25:15:05
Marion Fellows MP
Yes, but at the moment, as we all know, we’re in a cost of living crisis and we’re in hyper inflation, and that has cut, has had a significant effect on the money that the Scottish Government gets from the UK Government. So it’s effectively been a cut to their funding which impacts, and it because it’s a fixed budget or more or less a fixed budget, it means that if they do one piece of good it often would take money from another.

It’s not to say that they don’t want to, and I can’t speak on behalf of the Scottish Government personally, but it’s not that they don’t want to, it’s actual facts, if you want something additional then there is only one pot it has to come out of and it means that the budget is now set for next financial year and it means that it would have to be taken from something else.

Again, I can’t say anything, but this is why, one of the main reasons why so many of us are focused on independence, because then we could run our affairs the way that we think is best for people in Scotland. And I’m not ashamed of that. I think it’s..I firmly believe it’s the right way. And the work that Scottish Government has already done in mitigation for lots of the Westminster issues is testament to the fact that we want to do it. But unfortunately it’s not always possible, but it’s always worth trying.

00:25:15:05 – 00:25:38:24
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
We will be obviously pushing for some sort of change just to help people like Kelly-Marie in their situations, who are trying their best to participate in society and give back and get into employment. I think that’s something which is often misunderstood. Going back to stigma again, you know, about single parents is that they are just, you know, that narrative of ‘living off the state’.

00:25:38:24 – 00:26:21:00
Marion Fellows MP
Yes. And it’s not always through I mean, it’s not always through choice. The circumstances that dictate what happens to you, but also the fact that there are real barriers to you getting into work. And one of them being that as a young parent you will not get the same pay rate as somebody who’s 25. Now I don’t to depress you, that’s not my intention.

But I think that people have to be realistic and that’s one thing at Westminster that could change so much is if they started paying people under 25 the same rate as people over 25 as a minimum.

00:26:21:08 – 00:26:31:08
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Kelly-Marie, if there was one thing that you could say to Westminster, to the Scottish Government or to anybody that’s listening, what would be the message?

00:26:32:01 – 00:26:51:02
Kelly-Marie Wilson
That message would be I am the same as anyone of any age. I’m a parent and my age doesn’t affect that. So I think that the discrimination against younger people should be scrapped altogether because it’s not right.

00:26:51:23 – 00:27:09:15
Marion Fellows MP
And I only have one thing to say and that’s that Kelly-Marie is not like other people. She is real shining example and the complete opposite of how people consider young single parents. So well done.

00:27:09:15 – 00:27:24:18
Philippa Kemp (OPFS)
Absolutely, well done. And thank you both for talking to me today. And there’s so many people that are going to be really interested and learn a lot from, particularly from you, Kelly-Marie. And thank you, Marion, for joining me today.

00:27:24:18 – 00:27:26:10
Marion Fellows MP
Thank you for the opportunity.

00:27:27:00 – 00:27:27:19
Kelly-Marie Wilson
Yes, thank you very much.