Last updated: 25/02/2020
Gayle is a single mum of a 10-year-old boy and 19-year-old girl, based in Glasgow
How did you become involved with One Parent Families Scotland and what has the experience been like for you?
It was through Jobs and Business Glasgow that I was introduced to Elaine [Lone Parent Access Coordinator at One Parent Families Scotland in Glasgow]. But I also remember attending it when my wee boy was two to help try and get some work back then.
I came back all these years later because I knew as soon as they were mentioned that I was going to get a lot of good help. I’m claiming Universal Credit as well, so it’s helped me a lot with understanding the benefits system.
Fortunately, I’ve been a single mum for 19 years and it’s normal for me now and I just get along. But I still need people like One Parent Families Scotland to help with my mental health. It’s them that help me get out of bed, have some self-worth, and show that there are people out there who are willing to help get you where you want to be.
What challenges have you faced around employment as a single parent?
I got made redundant when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was a time when infrastructure and industries were all moving away. So, by the time I brought my baby up to one or two years of age and I was going out looking for sewing machinist jobs there were none, so I was left with literally nothing.
I trained up to be a childcare worker and it was amazing, I was out working again. Then when I had my son, the recession hit and the childcare place didn’t want to sack anyone so she reduced the hours, which was great for me having a wee baby, but then my aunt took ill who cared for him while I was at work so I had to give up the job.
At that time, I was in a narcissistic relationship, an alcoholic relationship, so it took me a few years to fight and get away from that. That’s when I broke free and I went to college and felt amazing about myself. I felt like “look what you’re doing here, this is something you never imagined you were capable of”.
I came out of college raring to go and I had a big plan that I didn’t want to claim any benefits. But a year and a half down the line my mental health got worse, and everything has got worse since I got put on Universal Credit.
- Gayle, single mum
What are your hopes or fears about getting back into employment now?
I’ve got resources round about me like after-school club, breakfast club – I know people who don’t have anything like that near them at all – so I’m quite lucky to have somewhere to go [for childcare]. The only challenges would be if the after-school care didn’t have any places or if the time of the job would give me enough time to get back in time for my wee boy. I’ve not got anybody I can rely on regarding childcare so that would be something I would have to work round.
I have worked as a single parent, but things were different then, it was more financially secure, there weren’t as many threats and cuts and life wasn’t as hard when it was me and my daughter. I was able to take her places, I was able to clothe her, I was still able to do things for her that I can’t do for my son.
What I’m scared of is going out and working and being worse off, because that’s all I’m hearing about. I know people who work who go to food banks. It’s not a good life, you feel pitiful, you feel like a beggar, like the old-time people just struggling for money and the bare minimum.
Elaine’s got me looking for something that’s going to last me into retirement, something I’m not going to have to leave in six months or a couple of years, because I’ve been in so many different jobs, I’ve had to reinvent myself because of the economy and infrastructure falling apart since I left school.
I’m 46 years of age, I shouldn’t be struggling for a job. I’ve done so much, yet I can’t get a job. There are so many barriers other than childcare.
What has your experience of claiming benefits been like?
I’ve been thrown into something that’s controlling me, and I don’t like that, having to do everything they want. Going to the Job Centre for me is the most terrifying thing. Every time I go, no matter how nice the person is, I feel like I’m that small. I don’t want to do it anymore and I didn’t want to do it three years ago and yet now I’m stuck in the system until my children grow up at least.
I was on Employment Support Allowance for my mental health and I went for an assessment and I got a call out the blue one day saying I got no points and I had to go and claim Universal Credit and that was it. She just put the phone down and left me sitting like a rabbit in the headlights thinking, what do I do here?
So, I instantly had to phone welfare rights officers, my housing officer, people I thought would be able to help me. At that time, I wasn’t with One Parent Families Scotland and if I was I’m sure I wouldn’t have went through half the trouble I did.
It wasn’t a good experience to start with and it’s still not a good experience trying to survive the month. The old system definitely worked better because things like your tax credits and your payment were separate, but you were able to budget it around it. When they just throw all that money at the one time, especially at people who can’t handle money, it’s a nightmare.
I think Universal Credit holds you back itself because you don’t feel good about yourself, so how can you go and write an application with all these positive words? It’s a constant struggle. It’s quite a mentally challenging time for anyone, never mind someone with a mental health issue.
That’s a barrier for me and for a lot of people, just not having any confidence because we’re not given any confidence – we’re one step away from a tent. It’s soul-destroying at this age when you’ve worked so hard and you’re still sitting with nothing.
- Gayle, single mum
What else could make things better for you as a single parent?
The main thing is that everything’s the woman’s job and now we’ve got children to bring up, jobs to do and houses to clean, kids to take to clubs – you’re just on the go constantly because the other parent isn’t chipping in their part of the deal. I find because I am left alone with everything, I’m not coping with it, I’m missing appointments. I write everything down and if I might not write it down it’ll go out my head.
By law a father should take parental responsibility three and a half days a week – not that I want my wee boy away that long – but if I need to work I should be able to work that three and a half days a week and he should be made to take half the childcare. That takes the pressure off single parents.
What would be your advice to someone considering getting in touch with One Parent Families Scotland?
I have spoken to a few friends who I’ve seen in quite dire need of help and I’ve suggested giving One Parent Families Scotland a call. They’ll help ease the burden, you’ve got somebody to talk to, there’s people that’ll help you with welfare, and you’ve got a good listening ear.
You walk in to see a smiley face, you know there’s no drama. I feel like myself when I’m here. I’m not in this constant Sergeant Major mode where I need to run about and sort things out. I could talk to Elaine about any of my problems without getting judged.