Being a lone parent: isolation, loneliness, stigma

19th Nov 2012

A personal story about the loneliness and stigma of being a single parent, by Tracey Robbins.

I was a teenage parent, married and unhappily, after a brief but violent period, divorced by the time I was 21, left alone to raise my daughter, who is herself now a lone parent of two daughters, left alone to raise them. Coincidence? Family culture? I am unsure.  

Coincidence that a film maker on behalf of JRF went to her group to work with lone parents in poverty? Yes! And no one was more surprised than JRF.

So here we both are. Single parents. Are we side effects of our throw-away society? Are we heroines for raising our children against the odds, both political and practical? Or scapegoats, scroungers, spongers – the underclass in a classless society?

I find it hard to credit that in our society the image of those left with all the responsibility and heartache of raising children is still stigmatised and demonised.

But I find the hardest thing of all is that my baby, my only daughter, Charlotte, faces a day-to-day struggle in poverty, on benefits, with the challenge of raising her two girls, my grand-girls, in a society that has, at best, no time for her.

In fact she struggles to raise her children in a society that not only has no time, but has no regard for, no appreciation of, the struggle; in a society that creates scapegoats and blames those less fortunate for all those wicked issues that are too complex to unpick.

The poverty pervades every day, every aspect, and I do know, as it is where I started. This lone parent volunteered, studied, worked hard and studied some more to be where I am today. But those same opportunities are no longer available for other lone parents like my daughter. 

Changes in benefits insist all those with children aged five move onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). Educational courses and volunteering clash with the JSA requirement that you are ready for and actively seeking work, turning the myth that you can’t volunteer while on benefit into a reality for all too many lone parents.

There are an estimated two million lone parents in Britain. There is no luxury in their lives that comes with a better income; no ability to choose what you want. It is about what you can afford. There is not an array of toiletries in the bathroom or fully stocked cupboards. When essentials run out, you go without. This includes phone credit, gas and electric – choices between heating and eating.

There is little opportunity to get a better income for their families. Gingerbread has launched a campaign to ‘Make it Work for single parents’, to have family-friendly employers, with opportunities in school hours, carers leave and with a Living Wage.

The guilt, the extreme sadness and loneliness comes from knowing that I can not save Charlotte, only support her, and the balance of that is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. She knows I am her safety net and that this is her life, her struggle and she has to do it for herself. She does and she is and I am incredibly proud.

I am also incredibly proud and in awe of those who have no safety net, no one to believe in them and they still do the day-to-day, day after day, alone.