My name is Ayse and I live in Hertfordshire. I am 34 years old and I’ve been a single mum to my gorgeous 5 year old boy since he was 5 months old. He is truly the light of my life and his smile is what keeps me going during these tough times.
When my son was born, I found myself faced with the prospect of being a single parent. I gave up a successful career as an IT trainer for a law firm to be a stay-at-home mum. I worked very long hours in the City of London, and I knew that with the commute I would never get any quality time with him during his precious first few years.
Starting my own business
We lived close to the bread line for most of the time. My amazing mum helped us get by. As well as financial, she was also my emotional support, and helped with childcare when I needed it. I wasn’t comfortable leaving my baby with someone I didn’t know. If my mum couldn’t look after him then I cancelled my plans. It was simple: he came first.
I used the time at home, while my son was either sleeping or with his Nan, to start planning my own training business where I could work hours to suit me once he started school. I didn’t want to work through the school holidays. I wanted a job that would still allow me to be a full-time mother. Until that time came, I devoted every minute of the day to his well-being and development, and I believe it is because of this nurturing that he is now very advanced in reading, writing and speaking for his age.
I have now set up my training business. I have already had some great opportunities and contracts to start, but every penny I make at the moment is going straight back into the business to keep it afloat. I am a long way from turning a profit, but it is definitely heading for success. I only offer training during term-time, which suits my learners as well as me, as most of them are parents too and can attend my courses while their children are at school.
Tax credits are my lifeline
I am receiving child tax credit as I am not yet working over 16 hours a week. This money has been a lifeline and every month I am extremely grateful for it. However, while it is a true god-send, it is barely a drop in the ocean in terms of covering expenses and day-to-day living costs. Food, bills and car expenses all on top of my business expenses are crippling. That money is out of my account before it even reaches it. I count down the date until my tax credits are paid into my account. This is the only money I have to rely on other than my son’s maintenance. Income support stopped as soon as he turned 5 and I found myself £280 down with no warning or gradual reduction. Add on top of this the deductions that will soon come into force because of the changes to the maintenance service, and I am left in a breathless and stressful panic as to how I’m going to make ends meet. Even as I write this, I feel that all too familiar knot in the pit of my stomach rising to my throat, knowing that ‘direct debit day’ is only round the corner, yet ‘tax credit day’ is still weeks away. Even when I establish new training contracts, they are neither regular nor reliable.
Like every parent, I want my son to have the best of everything, and have every possible opportunity to develop and grow. I’d love for him to attend sports and music clubs regularly, but this all costs money. I get a sinking feeling each time he excitedly shows me an invitation to a birthday party because it means money for presents. School trips cost money. In order for him to enjoy these wonderful things we have had to move back in with my parents. The bills and rent were too much for us on our own and so at the age of 34, as a single mum, I am back living at home. As my parents were also renting, we had to move to a bigger house where I am paying half the rent.
Renting is another huge burden that I have to unwillingly bear. We have had to move 6 times in the last 5 years because of landlords who have changed their minds about renting, or want to sell or put the rent up so high that we can’t afford it.
I try not to discuss money concerns in front of my little boy, but I often have to explain to him why we can’t buy certain things or expensive toys. It certainly says a lot when your 5 year old child brings you his pot of coppers and says ‘here mummy, take all my money to buy a house. I don’t mind, I don’t need it’. It tears my heart apart that he feels the need to shoulder the concerns that we face as adults. He is such a sensitive and kind-hearted child. His little copper pot is still sitting on my desk. He refuses to take it back.
The stigmatisation of single parents is unfair
I am often asked ‘how bad would it really be if tax credits were cut?’. These cuts are often put into perspective by politicians who don’t even know the price of a loaf of bread. They sell it as being only a few pennies a day, but added up over a week or month these pennies could be the difference between paying a bill one month, and going into arrears the next. These few pennies are incredibly important so that I can make ends meet. I can’t bear to think how it will be to lose my tax credits, or how we’re going to cope without them.
My mum’s salary pays for half the rent and most of the bills. My housing benefit helps with my half of the rent and my tax credit pays for the rest of the bills (the food shopping and all other living costs for the family). We have no luxuries. I have sold most of my possessions in the last few years to scrape together some extra funds so that we can get by.
I have worked every day of my adult life since I was 16. During university, I had 3 jobs to ensure I earned enough money to pay for my studies, and that was on top of a student loan. I have paid all my taxes and had never claimed any kind of state benefit. My parents have worked all their lives, my mum is still working and paying her taxes at the age of 63. Now that I find myself in a position where I need help, through no fault of my own, I am basically being told to just suck it up. I am trying to do everything by the government’s rules, yet every time I think I can see the finish line, they move it so far away that I don’t even know what direction it’s in. I am trying to play their game, but they appear to be playing by a completely different set of rules. I’m doing everything I can to become self-reliant and to set up a solid future for my son and I, but each time I think I have made progress I get a slap in the face by the system. I can’t earn money at the rate at which they are taking it away. I simply can’t keep up.
The government claims single parents will be better off because of things like the proposed 30 hours free childcare. Well what about parents such as myself? My mum is my childcare, yet because she is not a registered child-minder I don’t qualify for the free hours so I lose out again. Changes like this are always sold in a positive light and with clever wording that on the surface sounds as if they are offering more help than they are.
Single parents are often stigmatised as scrounging, hopeless cases who just want to sit at home and be given money for doing nothing. It’s just so insulting.
But, I’m campaigning to make a change
I recently gave an interview (albeit a very short one!) to BBC news about the tax credit cuts and I have previously spoken out against the child maintenance changes live on ITV and BBC Radio 4. There are many people out there with strong views and opinions on issues that affect them and if enough of us make a stand and speak out then we could see some changes. I would urge anyone who is given the opportunity to do a television interview to grasp it with both hands! It is an amazing experience to be given the chance to tell your story or put your point across. I’ll always be grateful to Gingerbread for giving me the chance to do this.
To feel this wretched as a single parent is heart-breaking. My self-esteem has taken a battering. I have found myself in the unplanned position of being a single parent not able to support my son. I am doing everything I can to get my business up and running, but I can’t do it alone. If they want a country of self-sufficient, educated and skilled single parents then they need to stop this game, stop attacking vulnerable groups of people like single parents, and offer help and support with a bit of substance that stands the chance of making a difference to their lives.