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A stuck record

Posted Oct 11 2010 12:00am
By 6.30am this morning Jack was showered, fully dressed in his uniform, and had eaten his breakfast. I know he's enjoying school - but he doesn't start until 9am. I'm finding it hard to drag myself out of bed to match his enthusiasm.

At the weekend I went to the Raddisso n for afternoon tea for a friend's birthday, and then to a pie and quiz night at Jack's school.

On Sunday I took part in one of these debate shows on BBC 1 about single parenting. I feel I have to clarify something here; my impression was that I'd be interviewed in my context as a writer of issues affecting single parents, not as 'Maria Roberts, single mother, found herself pregnant at 20'. And then referred to as a 'sweet single mother'; and obviously distinct from all those other single mothers we hear about; the unsweet trouble-causing ones.

There's then a lot of talk from me about how hard I found living on benefits and making ends meet - which is true. But that was actually in reference to the idea that women have kids to claim benefits; my argument being that this isn't the sole reason women have kids. Bringing up kids on benefits is hardly a lucrative business (unless it seems, you have ten kids and rake in £100k per year) and it's very hard to live off benefits. In my experience - and knowing a few other single mums - claiming benefits is mostly a temporary measure to use between jobs. Women I know, even those who fell pregnant young, then went on to have professional careers. One mum is a manager at the NHS, another runs her own film company.

I was on benefits in the real sense for quite a short period of time - probably less than six months. In my opinion benefits in the real sense is 'income support' because this is claiming without working. I only claimed this after working three jobs, and studying at the University of Manchester for 3 years, including an intensive period abroad. When I graduated in the June, I was knackered. Jack was about to start primary school in the September, and I was due to start an MA. It seemed sensible to take time out to prepare for that. Once my MA began, I moved into freelance journalism working as an Arts reviewer and family editor. I wrote a column. I began working in publishing. I started a blog. I got a bookdeal. I wrote plays. I took on more work. I sorted myself out probably with as much speed as someone without kids. I paid off my student loan within the requisite five years. I began to pay more in taxes.

I say this because I feel like the short film was me playacting the single mother role; yes in hindsight I can relate to how single mothers struggle, but it would be false to say this is our situation now.

Yes, I still panic about paying bills. But - I have education and experience to ensure I find work. I've never been out of work. Or chosen not to work. I'm also very, very aware that our situation is now miles away from what it was 12 years ago...8 years ago... even 2 years ago.

I'd say that what made the biggest difference to our lives was education, being in work, and continuing with my own continuing professional development by attending courses, reading, workshops and so forth.

So whilst I believe in the welfare state, and that it should not be squeezed so that it makes life on benefits painful, I also believe it is there to help people out.

You wouldn't want to live a life on benefits. Seriously. It's not a whole'lorra' fun.
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