One Parent Families Scotland: Kats’ Story

Case study

One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) is the leading organisation working with single parent families across Scotland. One Parent Families Scotland provides single parent tailored information, support and advice, and campaigns with single parents to make their voices heard to encourage positive policies for single parent families.

Employment and childcare for single parents during Covid-19

COVID-19 is a global public health crisis which has also resulted in an unparalleled economic catastrophe. Before this crisis single parent families already faced significant challenges: poverty, isolation and loneliness, poor health or disability, and judgemental attitudes.

Single parent families face twice the risk of poverty as couples with children — 48% compared to 26%.

Around 92% of single parents are women, and the majority are in their mid-30’s, so gender inequality is a key issue. Single parents face major barriers to lifting themselves out of in-work poverty, because of a lack of fairly-paid, flexible working options and affordable childcare which meets their families’ needs.

These problems have only been compounded by the coronavirus crisis, which has resulted in many parents we work with losing employment or working hours, while being faced with still fewer choices for employment and fewer formal and informal childcare options.

Kat, single mum of three, Glasgow

Kat has been supported by One Parent Families Scotland through our employability service in Glasgow. She was supported to move into work around five years ago, but like many people she was furloughed in March last year from the cafe where she worked, and she was made redundant in July. In November, she took another hospitality job despite the long and unsociable hours because she felt she had no other choice as she was struggling to cover costs for her family.

Kat’s story, in her own words:

My biggest problem just now is childcare. When I got made redundant I contacted my childminder to cancel because I thought there’s no point in me paying out hundreds of pounds when I’m not working. I had to get my kids’ dad to help me, and I’ve had a lot of issues with him.

When I started working again he said he’s not watching them because of the hours I have to work — I work at 5 in the morning, or just now while the kids aren’t at school I’m working the backshift 3pm till midnight. He’s helping me now because of lockdown but he says it’s going to change in February.

He told me on New Year’ Eve he needed time off from watching the weans and it was meant to be his weekend, so I had to call my mates to see if they could watch the kids, so I had to go from Glasgow to East Kilbride to drop them off and pick them up at 1 in the morning. That’s not fair to them. And I couldn’t work the Saturday because their dad wouldn’t watch them.

I couldn’t get another sitter because I’ve not got anybody. I can’t get childcare at home because they stop at 10 at night and they don’t start at 4 in the morning. My ex-childminder is only working for people who work for the NHS so they can go to work, so it’s really hard to get childcare.

I was a shift manager and I had to explain to my work I’m a single parent, I’ve got three kids, I can’t do all these hours. My first week they gave me 56 hours. In the contract there was a wee thing asking if you’d be happy to do more than 48 hours and I said no, I want to see my kids. But the other week they pulled me in and demoted me because they said I can’t fulfil my contracted hours because I can’t work open and close, but I am doing all closes next week.

They’ve not been helpful at all when it comes to childcare. My son’s got autism, my oldest daughter has a lot of mental health issues at the moment. I said to my work, when I request a day off it’s not for me to go and have a jolly good time. I had to have yesterday off because my son had a CAMHS appointment, and I’ll have to have a day off next week because my daughter has a counselling appointment.

I realised my mental health was also being affected, so I went to the manager and said my mental health is low — I was greeting and everything. He went and got another manager and said ‘oh, you’re demoted’. He didn’t offer any support or anything.

I said I’m happy to step down if I can be part-time and they said I can’t because I signed a contract for full-time. I said “yes, I signed a contract for a full-time shift manager”. They told me I can’t go part-time, even after me saying I’ve got to homeschool my kids. They said “oh, you can just do lates” — and they’ve just demoted me because they said I couldn’t do closes, so basically I got demoted for no reason. It’s a long day because I’m not going to get in till half past midnight, then I’ll be up at half 8 in the morning again.

I’ve hardly seen my kids since November. In turn the kids are playing up in the house because they’re not getting to see me and they’re saying “well you’re never here”. It’s a horrible feeling.

I‘m still looking for other jobs right now, I’ve had interviews, phone calls, but it’s the only thing that’s going about.

‘Single parent-proofing’ economic recovery

Sadly, Kat’s story is not unique. This example raises common themes that our local services in Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow and Lanarkshire and our national Lone Parent Helpline are hearing from single parents.

Evidence gathered both before and during the pandemic points to serious concerns about the likely impact of a period of economic decline on single parents, as pre-existing inequalities are only deepening.

This is why it is absolutely vital that economy recovery plans take into account the particular challenges faced by single parents, and by women more generally.

We believe this should include:

  • Developing childcare infrastructure that provides funded, quality and flexible education and childcare; assessing feasibility of further expansion of universal entitlement from age 3 to early secondary, including out-of-school care; and ensuring providers are informed and supported to deal with the Universal Credit approach to childcare costs.
  • Supporting the private and public sectors to create quality, flexible vacancies; enabling single parents to access jobs created in the childcare workforce; and providing training programmes, apprenticeships and work placements accessible to single parents.
  • Strengthening social security by reforming Universal Credit, including childcare costs processes; ending policies like the two-child cap and benefit cap which penalise single parents; and using devolved benefits to increase support to single parents.

Further reading:

Monthly Covid-19 impact reports from One Parent Families Scotland 

‘Child poverty among lone parent families’, annex to Scottish Government Tackling child poverty: second year progress report 

 Public Health Scotland’s paper on ‘COVID-19 and lone parent households’