“It’s not all bad,” I have written before about being a lone parent. “There are advantages,” I have said. “There are certain things that are better about being on your own with the kids,” I have revealed.
One of those things, however, is not trying to subsist on social welfare payments. A parent in my position – with two qualifying children – receives the grand fortune of €247.60 per week. There is an additional fuel allowance of €20 per week during the colder months – but the last budget slashed the ‘cold season’ from 32 to 26 weeks. Yes, I know, lone parents and their children are entitled to medical cards and some lone parents get help with their rent or mortgage but still, €247.60 a week to cover the costs of food, detergent, toiletries, other groceries, clothing, transport, energy, the phone, the Internet (no longer a luxury) and refuse collection. Not to mention ‘luxuries’ like books and outings. Because, yes, children do need books and they do outings (of course I’ve heard of the library – and we revel in our trips there, but some books you need to own). Sending them to school will not provide them with an education (but that’s a whole other blog post).
Anyone can live on €247.60 for a week. Or a month. Or six. After a year, though, the shine goes off it. After five, it becomes a struggle to survive. The feeling of triumphing over your circumstances because you’ve managed to ensure that no one went hungry all week, dissipates. You get sick of having to say ‘no’ to your children because you can’t say ‘yes’ – not as a lifestyle choice.
The feeling of embarrassment when your laser card is declined at the supermarket is alien to you. It’s happened so many times already that you don’t care about the humiliation, just the fact that you still don’t have bread or eggs or salt.
You resent having to choose between paying the rent and buying food for your kids. That’s a choice no one should have to make.
You turn down invitations not because you’re anti-social but because the cost of a night out petrol, parking, a babysitter – just isn’t available to you.
The cost of everything – insurance, tax, petrol, food, clothing, energy – has risen in the past year. I understand that they have increased for everyone, not just lone parents; but when you only have yourself to rely on, then you do feel it more acutely.
But, guess what? I don’t want to live on social welfare payments. No, really, I don’t. This is not a lifestyle choice for me. I’m not moaning because the government won’t give me enough of your money to live and raise my kids on. I would love to work. I would love to use the talents and experience I have to provide for myself and my family. I am a highly intelligent, well-educated, articulate, motivated, capable woman. I have valuable international experience and I learn fast. I am highly employable – and I have always managed to earn enough to support myself and my family outside of Ireland.
For so many lone parents in Ireland, working is incompatible with raising our children. Yes, I have tried. Dear Lord! I have tried. Again and again I have come against the brick wall that is the attitude of employers in Ireland. They do not understand how skills can be easily transferred from one sector to another. They do not understand that people can be highly productive off-site. And don’t get me started on the lack of affordable childcare – especially for those of us who don’t have another parent, or parents or siblings of our own around to share that with.
In the absence of paid employment – and because I refuse to atrophy – I’ve returned to education. Partly funded – I will admit – by the Irish government. The non-funded part? I had to find that myself. I’m not even going to go into how I managed it. But manage it I did. See? I’m good at project-management, juggling budgets and finding solutions. The one thing I can’t find a solution to, though, is this government’s continuing willingness to penalise the most vulnerable, the most voiceless and the most precious people in our society – our children. That benefits no one.