Being a single parent is, without doubt, one of the hardest jobs in the world. You have to do the job of two (it's hard enough for a couple) all by yourself and so here at Dream Bear, we absolutely believe that working single parents (and all single parents) must be superheroes.
Is it really possible to work, look after a child, keep on top of all the housework etc, and still function at the end of each day as a lone parent? We believe it is. The key to success is to look at changing your perspective on life and maintaining a positive outlook. No matter how you look at it, you would still be in the same situation, whether you were happy or not and so why waste precious energy being miserable? We do understand that this is easier to say when you’ve not been up half the night with a colicky baby…
As a single working parent, you should make sure you are aware of all your rights, in terms of time off for antenatal care, maternity leave and any pay/benefits you may be entitled to.
This is the type of care that you get throughout your pregnancy, from healthcare professionals such as your GP, midwives and obstetricians. Your place of employment must give you the time off for you to go to scans and check-ups in order to make sure that the pregnancy is running smoothly. If your midwife or GP recommends that you attend an antenatal class, then your workplace must also allow you the time for this.
First Things First: Maternity Pay and Leave Entitlement
In order to qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you must currently earn at least £112 on average per week and have been employed by your employer for at least twenty-six weeks prior to the “qualifying week” (the fifteenth week before the baby’s expected birth date). If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, your employer must give you a form called “SMP1”, explaining why you don’t qualify. You should then enquire whether you are entitled to Maternity Allowance instead (https://www.gov.uk/maternity-allowance), and do some sums before claiming in case you will be worse off.
As a pregnant woman, you are entitled to twenty-six weeks’ “ordinary maternity leave”, regardless of how long you have been working at the company. You must, however, make your employer aware that you are pregnant, at least fifteen weeks before the beginning of the week your baby is due. Once you have confirmed your maternity leave with your employer, the employer will then write to you with your date for returning to work.
If you give your employer twenty-eight days’ notice, then you will be able to change this date. Use the government’s calculator here to determine your maternity pay and leave entitlement. There are some instances in which you may not be entitled to ordinary maternity leave – for instance, if your employment status is that of a “worker” and not an “employee”. If you’re in doubt as to your employment status, try contacting the Citizens Advice service, who should have an expert on-hand to offer you help and advice: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-we-provide-advice/advice/
These are minimum legal entitlements however your specific workplace/contract might offer you more. Talk to your HR department or the person responsible for maternity entitlements to check what is on offer.
When is the Right Time to Return to Full-time Work?
If you were employed before having your baby and plan to return you’ll have agreed on a timeframe with your employer to determine when you’ll be returning to work.
While some mothers look forward is some ways to getting back into a working routine (and being back on a full salary) you may be filled with dread as you anticipate what feels like “abandoning” your new baby. If the latter is the case, it may be worth doing some sums to see if you could afford to work fewer hours and then make contact with your employer in as soon as possible to find out if there is any room for flexibility in your working hours/days.
Advice from the Citizens Advice website explains: “Although you have the right to ask to work flexibly, your employer doesn't have to agree to it. However, they must give your request serious consideration and have a good business reason if they decide not to agree.” It’s worth taking a look at the government’s web page on flexible working: https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working
If you have any savings, you might also consider asking your employer to allow you to defer your return in order to give you more time with your new baby. You are entitled by law to up to fifty-two weeks’ maternity leave. (There are some exceptions to this, including policewomen and women in the armed forces.)
What if I Need a Pay Rise?
What if you are now heading back to work, however, are swiftly realising that the salary you were on before isn’t going to cover looking after both you and your child. Perhaps you’ve recently split up from your partner and now have only one source of income? Whatever your circumstances if you’re unable to afford the cost of living as a single parent, then it’s time to ask for a pay rise.
Bear in mind that most employers aren’t going to give you a pay rise simply because you need to buy nappies, so you have to convince them that you add value to the business. Start by making a list of what you bring to your job. Focus in particular on tasks that are outside your job description. For instance, if you work as a PA, but have taken on responsibilities for marketing, focus on these as your bargaining tool. Of course, if you’re a hard-working individual who they can’t afford to lose, then they’ll be more likely to help if they can. It certainly won't hurt to ask.
If this is the case, then If your employers aren't in a position to offer you a pay increase it might be that you may need to look at other ways of increasing your income or ultimately a new position.
What if I Didn’t Work Before?
If you didn’t have work before having your baby, getting back into the working environment may be somewhat daunting. But don’t be put off though by your career gap or your status as a new parent as many employers are now coming to recognise the advantages of hiring people with some life experience, so make sure you don’t sell yourself short.
The National Careers Service has lots of advice on checking what skills you have, drawing up your CV and finding relevant courses. It also offers advice on working from home, as well as working for yourself.
Government Benefits and Tax Credits
It might be that due to your income level that you entitled to financial help towards childcare from the government. Check out the information on the government’s website. Bear in mind that if you do qualify for help you will have to use a childcare provider from the list of ‘approved childcare providers’ (also on the government’s website). This financial help comes via the tax credit system.
It might also be worth asking if your employer offers ‘directly contracted childcare’ with a specific childcare provider. Whether they do offer such a service or not, find out how much you are entitled to in Childcare Vouchers (not available in all workplaces but worth investigating) which enable you to earn you up to £55 per week towards childcare (depending on your earnings and when you joined the scheme): https://www.gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs/childcare-vouchers You will not have to pay tax or National Insurance on either Childcare Vouchers, a workplace nursery, or on ‘directly contracted childcare’ via your employer.
Childcare Vouchers may affect the amount of tax credits you receive. Use the government’s online calculator, to get an idea of whether you’d be better or worse off if you claimed Childcare Vouchers: https://www.gov.uk/childcare-vouchers-better-off-calculator
Are you already claiming Child Tax Credit? If not, find out if you’re missing out: https://www.gov.uk/child-tax-credit/overview You don’t have to be working to claim Child Tax Credit, and you can claim for any child under the age of twenty, provided they are in full-time education. What’s more, Child Tax Credit will not affect your Child Benefit (https://www.gov.uk/child-benefit/overview). Use the Tax Credits Calculator here, to find out how much you could be receiving.
Should I Use Child Care
You probably already know if your employer is one of the rare organisations to offer an on-site nursery service to its employees. If so, you’re sorted! Otherwise, you have some decisions to make.
Childcare can be can be quite costly (although the costs do vary depending on what type of childcare provider you use), especially if you’re looking to put your child into care every day. How much you would need to pay in childcare may affect your decision regarding going back to work as you will have to decide whether it is financially viable for you to go back to work.
That said there are some excellent childcare providers available and if you are able and want to work and can balance hours and childcare costs then knowing that is a relief.
Parents’ Rights in the Workplace
You’re actually entitled to quite a lot as a working parent, and possibly more than you think. Your employer isn’t necessarily going to lay these cards on the table for you so make sure that you’ve brushed up on your rights before you negotiate with your employer.
Your Rights to Time off Work as a Parent
- Antenatal care (time off to attend appointments with the midwife/GP/etc.)
- Maternity leave
- Maternity suspension for health and safety reasons (for more information on suspension during pregnancy, see: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/suspension-from-work-on-medical-health-and-safety-grounds)
- Flexible working (although this does depend on obtaining your employer’s approval)
- Statutory Adoption pay and leave (see https://www.gov.uk/adoption-pay-leave/eligibility to check your entitlement)
- Parental leave (unpaid leave, to look after your child’s welfare. For more information, refer to: https://www.gov.uk/parental-leave)
Your Right to Change Your Mind
When you make the choice to go back to work, it doesn’t mean that you’ve necessarily committed yourself to devoting all of your time to your workplace. Your employer must treat seriously any statutory request from you to work flexibly (a maximum of one request per year).
How successful your claim will be will depend on what you propose to your employer (in terms of flexi-time, home-working or term-time-only working) and whether allowing these changing to your contract will work well for both parties. When you put in the request to your employer, it must be made in writing and you should state that it is a “Statutory Application”. Your employer must take the proposal seriously. Again, the only way that they’re able to refuse is if they have clear business grounds for doing so. (The rules are different in Northern Ireland – please see: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/flexible-workin)
After the Event
Whatever you decide about returning to work or staying at home with your children, make sure you do the sums and apply for any beneficial tax credits/etc so that you can budget accordingly. When working everything out also make sure that you factor in some quality time as a family as we work to live, not live to work and family time is the most important thing.
Nothing needs to be forever and so if you go back to work and find this isn't working out you can readdress the situation. Likewise, if you choose to stay at home you aren't forever limiting your ability to work again in the future.