If you’re a single parent thinking about going back to work, you might be wondering how you’ll manage. It’s common for anyone who has been out of work for any length of time to lose a bit of confidence in their abilities. Going back to work is a big step requiring a lot of change, but you’re not alone.
There are around 2 million single parents in the UK, making up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children; and 67% of single parents are in work[i]. However, single parents who aren’t working overwhelmingly want to. According to a recent report, 84% of non-working single mothers would like to get a job, become self-employed, or train[ii].
Going to work can benefit your family, allowing you to provide for your children now and in the future. Here, we provide you with some tips on getting started on the journey back to work.
The National Careers Service provides free careers information, advice and guidance to adults throughout England, and can help single parents to access support, learning and training to help them back into work.
The service is completely free of charge and available online, over the phone and face-to-face. A qualified careers adviser will be able to explore the careers available to you, identify training courses and learning opportunities to help you progress; guide you in effective job searching; and work on interview techniques to ensure you’re ready.
Free childcare is available for children aged between 2 and 4. You may also be able to get help paying for childcare for children under the age of 16 if it’s provided by an ‘approved childcare’ provider. Use the Childcare Calculator at gov.uk to find out what you could be eligible for.
Asking other parents, family or friends for help can make things easier too. You might be able to share childcare or school pick-ups and drop-offs with another parent. Or you may have a family member who can help out once or twice a week. Friends you trust might be willing to help too – sometimes all you have to do is ask.
The government may provide extra financial help for single parents who are returning to work. In Work Credit is a non-taxable weekly payment of £40 a week (£60 a week if you live in London). Single parents who start a job and work for 16 hours or more a week can receive the payment for up to 52 weeks. You can get further details by contacting your local Jobcentre Plus.
Single parents who are working may also be able to claim Universal Credit; or singular benefits such as Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. You can estimate what you could be eligible to receive and find out how to apply at: www.gov.uk.
You could also get help with your Council Tax – people who don’t live with another adult are entitled to 25% off their council tax bill. For more information and to apply, contact your local council: https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council.
Many employers will offer flexible working options. Ask your employer, or your potential employer, what’s possible. Can you start later and finish earlier? Is there the option to work flexible hours, or work from home?
By law, a single parent has the right to ask an employer for flexible working hours. As long as you have worked for your employer, without a break, for at least 26 weeks, your employer must seriously consider your request for flexible working hours, and provide you with reasonable businesses reasons if they decide to refuse it.
There are lots of online single parent groups around which can be a great place to share experiences and get advice. Examples include:
Being a working parent means life is busy, and planning can really help to ease the load. Consider planning your meals for the week, to save time after work. Plan meals that are quick and healthy for work days, or pre-prepare and freeze meals at the weekend, to save time during the week.
Get the support of family and friends if you can. Having a back-up plan in case of child illness or childcare issues will mean you’ll face less stress when those problems occur, and you’ll be able to solve them quickly.
Eating well, getting enough sleep, and being active will help to keep your mind and body healthy; although can be difficult to achieve when you have a busy working life. Say fit while saving time by using a fitness app aimed at busy working parents, such as My Fitness Pal or Sworkit.
Make sure you take some time out for yourself too. Make time to watch your favourite TV show or read a book. Dedicating some time to “you” will help keep you happy and healthy.
The National Careers Service provides free, up to date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market in England to anyone aged 13 and upwards.
To speak to a National Careers Service adviser, call 0800 100 900 or use our webchat (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week)
[ii] Barnes, M. and Tomaszweski, W. (2010) ‘Lone parents and benefits: an obligation to look for work?’. In Park, A. et al. British Social Attitudes: the 26th report. London: Sage.