Last updated: 18/11/2020
We are sharing Joy’s* story as part of a series of stories from black single mothers with experience of the immigration and asylum system. Each of the women featured in these stories are supported through One Parent Families Scotland’s Glasgow and Lanarkshire services.
We hope that sharing their experiences, which are similar to those of many parents we work with, will help shine a light on the structural inequality and racism which exists in Scotland today, and support conversations on how this can be changed. Look out for the other stories and the upcoming blog by our director Satwat Rehman which will reflect on these points.
Joy is a single mum who lives in Glasgow with her four children
Joy lived in the Republic of Ireland for over twenty years before she moved in with her niece in Scotland in April 2018 due to family problems which resulted in her becoming a single parent. Soon after, Joy got involved with One Parent Families Scotland when her neighbour recommended it.
The following answers are in Joy’s own words, transcribed and lightly edited from an interview about her experiences as a single parent, dealing with social work and housing services in Scotland, and her family’s experiences of racism – as well as her thoughts on what could make things better in future.
* A pseudonym has been used to protect anonymity.
Can you tell us what your experience of coming to Scotland was like?
When I moved, I went to social work to get accommodation and that was very hard for me and my children – the way the social worker was, I can’t even explain it. I was staying with my niece and it was overcrowded; my niece had two children and then me with my four children, so it was eight people in two bedrooms. It was too much.
When we went, the social worker was asking me “why are you here?” She was not nice at all. She said: “Oh, we don’t have places so we can’t give it to you. You have four children – why did you move here? You’re supposed to just stay in Ireland. Why did you come here?”
I’m an Irish citizen, I have an Irish passport. If I don’t feel good where I’m living I can move anywhere I want. There is no problem for people to move from Ireland to Scotland because as Irish citizens you have the same rights as Scottish citizen. Even Brexit and all those things don’t affect people living in Ireland.
I thought, “Why are you saying that to me – that I’m not welcome in this country?” It was very hard.
How did you get involved with One Parent Families Scotland? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a single parent in particular?
I needed somewhere to go as in Scotland I had no friends, and when I met my friend [another woman who is supported through One Parent Families Scotland] she told me “we have a group, let’s go there to meet people and so you can talk: it’ll do you good”.
I met Elaine at One Parent Families Scotland and we talked, I explained everything that was going on in my life, and they started to help me with vouchers, foodbanks, to get something at least.
At that time my situation was very bad. They helped me with my income because I was having a serious problem when I moved here. I went with no support from the government, no child benefit or child tax credit, for almost six months. The only payment I was getting was Jobseeker’s Allowance, £73 a week. Imagine with four children and a grown-up – it was a very, very difficult time for me. I was using savings I had from Ireland so that was my support, but I don’t know how I managed.
If you move here from the Republic of Ireland, you have to stay here for three months before they will process everything. I filled out applications and sent them in but they said they didn’t receive the application or they didn’t receive my passport, so I re-sent it. In September 2018 they said everything was okay and they could pay me child benefit and child tax credit.
As a single parent, I don’t have a family, it’s just me and my children, and all of them are going to school. All the jobs I can apply for start early in the morning, or if I took a night shift and had to leave them, it would finish around half 7 and I would have to take a bus or two buses to arrive at my place so I’d be home about half 8. I have to be there to drop my children and collect them from school.
At the moment I have to pay the bus ticket for two of my daughters because the school they are going to is not in their catchment area, and one of my daughters is 17 so I have to pay the full ticket, and they aren’t getting school meals so I have to pay for that too. I did apply for free school meals but they never answered me to say if I was eligible or not.
One Parent Families Scotland are helping me though. Every week [in the summer] Elaine was coming over to do deliveries, giving us food, snacks for the children, hot meals.
Can you share any experiences of racism you have had in Scotland?
When they gave us the place we are living right now, the first day we moved in people came to break our door the same night – they were banging, pushing, the children were crying. I didn’t know what to do so I called the police. When they came, I explained everything and they said “oh no, maybe they didn’t come for you” and it just finished and they went.
It didn’t happen just once, it happened twice. I went back to the social work and explained it and they called my case worker and I explained everything we were going through in that house. They said: “Oh, it’s just like this, it happens to everybody, there is nothing we can do, you just need to stay in that place”. The building we live in, we are all black people, so nobody likes to call the police.
I was thinking, I have two grown up daughters and my son and my young daughter, and we don’t have protection. Just because we didn’t have the money to get a private place to rent, we couldn’t just leave that place and go.
Sometimes in the morning when I was going to a voluntary job or college, when I came back I saw a gap in the door – you know when somebody has pushed very hard you can just see the gap. It’s just happening, happening, happening and nobody’s doing anything.
The people stand at the door, night and day. Sometimes they will start drinking, shouting – at night time they play music, bang doors. They can start at 8pm until 4am, and nobody’s calling the police, nobody’s doing anything. So what can I do?
When the children are coming back from school, I have to go to get them. If they see those people they’ll go back and call me and say “mummy can you please come downstairs so we can come together?” They are really, really afraid.
How does this compare to your experience living in Ireland?
I would prefer to live in Ireland because, you know, there is racism and anti-social behaviour everywhere, but some people don’t show it and you can live a normal life like nothing is happening. People just keep it to themselves.
The area I lived in was very good, and they mixed – middle class, high class, low class, all nations, they are together as Irish citizens. They go to the same schools, public schools, and every person is part of the society. We lived in a council house but you can see they mix everybody. I’m talking about the area I lived in – I don’t know about other places.
This has been my experience in Scotland in just two years. It happened to me another time on the bus: one day I entered the bus and I was with my friend and there was a man sitting, there was one place free and when I came to sit at place the man took a shopping bag and put it on the place I wanted to sit. I said “oh, sorry, excuse me, can I sit?” and he said “no”. Everybody on the bus was looking like … and I just ended up standing.
The only thing I can say it’s just a lack of education, because if that man went to school, really – he showed it [his racism] to everybody.
What do you think could be done to address racism in Scotland?
People need to educate themselves. People need to open their minds – whatever the colour of your skin or wherever you come from, you are a human being. That’s all I can say. You just have to treat us the same.