Last updated: 31/05/2022
Carolyn is a single mum who lives in Edinburgh with her 4-year-old son.
Carolyn’s son has sensory processing disorder. She herself has fibromyalgia, a muscular skeletal condition and talks about how balancing her health condition with caring for her son has impacted on her availability for work. She also shares her thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis and talks about what changes she would like to see made.
The following answers are in her own words, transcribed and lightly edited from a podcast interview about her experiences as a single parent.
How did you hear about One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS)?
I’m part of a single parents Facebook group, and I heard on there that OPFS is a really good resource for single parents. I went on the website and found out that I may be able to get help getting a laptop, because my laptop had broken, and I had been trying to do interactive parenting classes on Zoom on my phone. I’ve used the laptop to apply for a job, but with the additional needs that my son has, I’m quite drained a lot of the time and I have fibromyalgia, so I’ve got to be a bit careful with my energy levels.
How has childcare and managing a health condition impacted on your ability to work?
Prior to having my son, I’d always worked full time. I managed my health condition. One of the biggest triggers for fibromyalgia, which is a muscular skeletal condition, is stress. And when you have a child who is not in control of their own emotions or actions a lot of the time, the stress factors are quite large. You’ve always got to have eyes on him.
I applied for a job which I thought would fit around my son’s childcare. I thought it would work for when he starts school. However, I spoke to somebody that runs the After School Club, and they said because he is going to need almost one on one supervision, it’s unlikely they’d be able to offer him any sort of place, so that was a bit of a reality check for me.
Does your son currently attend nursery?
He’s at nursery five days a week. He gets 1,140 hours funded and I pay wraparound, which takes it to four o’clock and gives him a much better day. That was partly on the advice of the Additional Support for Learning team because they feel that having longer days at nursery is going to help him transition to school, where he’s got longer days and he’ll be more mentally ready. When he gets tired, that’s when his behaviours act out.
How is the rising cost of living impacting on your daily life?
I would say the term ‘heat or eat’ is quite prevalent in this house. So, am I going to heat the house or am I going to eat? The budget for food? My costs, my weekly shop has basically almost doubled. Because of my son’s issues, I need to take him in the car a lot of places because getting from A to B is quite dangerous. And it also takes about three times as long as any other child, and I have to use the car to get him to nursery. My petrol costs have doubled. And I’ve just got my gas and electricity bill…
Were you surprised exactly how much your energy bill had gone up?
Yes. It’s more than doubled. I was paying £106 a month and now it is £232. I used to have about £12 to £14 left at the end of each month, depending on what expenses had come up. So, to try and find that kind of money was massive. I’m on Universal Credit. Not only did we lose the £100, which we’d been given during the pandemic, even without the cost of living and everything rising, you’re £100 short already. Now your gas and electricity costs are that much higher.
I’ve got no idea how they expect people to live. My biggest fear is if I can’t find the money, they’re then going to put me on a pay as you go metre which then puts you up to the very highest cost of gas and electricity. It’s penalising those who don’t have a lot of expendable income and it’s not because I don’t want to work. I do want to work. But if I if I don’t have childcare, what do I do? It’s a hugely stressful time. I am on a fixed income, I have been deemed unfit for work because of my health condition and I have only £11 per week left for anything like clothes, medicine, soft play, unexpected repairs etc. I am not cutting back on luxuries, I’m cutting back on food and essentials, and there just doesn’t seem to be any help or advice as to what the solution is going to be.
What sort of sacrifices are you making on a day-to-day basis?
Well, it’s food for me. It’s vital I feed my son because he’s a child. He needs to eat. But for me, pasta has become a staple and it’s one of the worst things that I can eat for my fibromyalgia because the carbs don’t react well for me, but again, you’ve just got to look at what’s going to fill you up. Plain pasta or pasta with a tomato sauce is very cheap. Cereal is another one. But I look at what my shopping used to be and there was a lot of fresh fruit, veg, salad, probably more white meat than anything else – chicken, turkey. And now, I’m very conscious about what I’m buying, what I’m spending. I used to shop between Lidl and Morrison’s. I now only shop at Lidl. It’s just the most cost-effective way.
Do you think your son has noticed any difference in terms of the change in diet?
Yeah, of course, we used to sit and eat together, and we’d eat the same thing. So, again, part of the sensory processing is he doesn’t feel hungry, or he doesn’t feel tired. So, it’s about mirroring behaviours so he can see that we’re both eating together, eating the same thing. And now he’s asking why am I not eating? Where’s my food? Not eating the same as him. He’ll just eat cereal. So, it’s tough because you don’t want to burden your child with the fact that actually it’s due to money. It’s coming towards the end of the month, and mummy can’t afford as much food. It’s a very harsh reality and my frustration is that nobody seems to be listening.
What have you done to try to get the support that you need?
I did speak to my health visitor; I have applied for Child Disability Payment because I spoke to Parentline. And they did a benefit check. I was really panicking. And unbeknown to me, I could apply for child disability payments. So, I’m waiting to hear about that, but not everybody has that option. There isn’t a lot out there you can go for, there are some community care grants, and there are other things, but they’re one-off payments and that doesn’t help when each month it’s a shortfall and the money that’s coming in isn’t enough to cover what’s going out.
The biggest thing is the gas and electricity, especially when you have a child. You can’t be turning your heating off. Don’t get me wrong, I have turned my heating down and we now have blankets on all the beds, we have blankets on the sofas to cuddle under. And I’ve tried to make it a game. We get all cosy, and we build a nest for ourselves. He’s taken to wearing his dressing gown over his clothes. He’s also got warm onesies, which he puts over his clothes. And it’s fine at the moment in the sense that it’s not as cold as it has been and we’re coming out of needing to have the heating on a lot. But I’m still going to have to be paying every month to cover the costs for the whole year. It’s scary.
What do you think the Government should do to help?
I think the Government needs to look at Universal Credit payments and the cost of living and what people are actually paying to live, and they need to increase the amount that is going out. Or they need to do something radical with the rising energy costs to try and help people because it’s not just people on benefits that are struggling, it’s people that are working. Most people don’t have a lot of expendable income, and for prices to double on just about everything across the board…what are the Government doing? They’re not helping anybody!
I don’t think in this day and age, that any person should be having to ask themselves the question: ‘Am I going to heat or am I going to eat?’ I think that is something they must look at very, very quickly. It’s affecting the whole spectrum of people: parents, single people, couples those on a low income. It’s….words fail me, to be honest.