Q&A: How can flexible working support single parents?
Published: 22 Dec 2022
We sat down with Julie Hawkins, a member of our Parents and Carers Panel and Founder of the Single Mums Business Network, to discuss how single parents can benefit from flexible working.
Why is flexible working especially important for single parents?
Whilst flexible working is important for all carers, it can be more challenging for a single parent as they’re less likely to have adequate financial support to manage the cost of living. Without being able to work flexibly, they may not be able to work at all, making them more vulnerable to poverty, and the financial situation could well impact their mental health. Managing school holidays is also a challenge for single parents when they are missing the full support of another parent who can share annual leave to cover the 13 weeks of school holidays.
What impact can flexible working have on the lives of single parents?
Without flexible working, a single parent could be forced to reduce their hours and skills significantly or be pushed out of work altogether, which could have a detrimental impact on income and mental health. Unfortunately for single parents, there is no safety net in the form of another parent’s income. Even when there is a supportive ex-partner who is able to, for example, offer some childcare support during school holidays, there are still two homes to pay for, putting them at a financial disadvantage. Single parents face a risk of being challenged financially alongside the impact on their mental health, which may make it even harder to change their situation.
When it comes to flexible working, what are the main considerations for single parents?
Funding childcare with often limited income is tough, but this is made worse by not having access to flexible working which would go some way to help alleviate these costs. Holiday club fees are also problematic. A single parent will need to cover 13 weeks school closures, and often childcare provision during the holidays do not offer the same hours of cover during term breaks. Whilst there are some childcare support packages available to single parents, these are still offered retrospectively, and so it is often difficult to find fees upfront.
How does Single Mums Business Network help single parents get onto a flexible working pathway?
Whilst the SMBN continually does all that it can to raise awareness and engage with other organisations to address barriers that single parents face, it also signposts single parents to the specialist flexible working agencies. Sadly, there are not enough employers offering the flexible working many single parents need to maintain or achieve financial autonomy. Under these circumstances, many single parents choose enterprise or self-employment as a way to work flexibly around their childcare responsibilities. So the SMBN, with acute awareness of the expense of advertising and lack of advice, helps single parent members with both exposure for their business and information and advice on what to avoid and how to properly focus and invest in their own business.
Exploring self-employment as a means to work when you face barriers to salaried and skilled employment is a very positive transition, either towards business success or towards enhancing transferable skills and confidence enabling them to maintain engaged and connected in the world of business and work.
As a small business owner, how do you achieve a work-life balance?
I think that achieving work-life balance can be hard as an entrepreneur, because it is so difficult to switch off when you are completely reliant on your income and don’t have safety nets in terms of leave. Entrepreneurship, whilst it is not for the faint-hearted, is a way to overcome some of the barriers into employment.
The key is to ensure that some of the work is doing what you really enjoy, as you may be missing the comradeship of work colleagues that are all crucial to good mental health and emotional wellbeing. Networking is important to me and for growing the business, so I do that in person with lunches or coffee. It is very hard as a small business owner to achieve a work-life balance for the first few years; however, you do have much more freedom to juggle as you are able to manage your own diary around personal commitments.
How can employers support single parents around flexible working?
Employers need to be mindful of upfront childcare costs, barriers to adequate childcare during the school holidays and wraparound care, and the stigma that single parents still face. Whilst a single parent may face barriers and financial hardship as a single income household this does not mean that they lack skills or a work ethic.
It is not only single parents that employers support by not only enabling but promoting flexible working, but by valuing outcomes over presenteeism, the economy gets a boost, which benefits us all.
When we talk about the roles that we know can be fulfilled from home, it would be helpful to enable flexible hours and shift the focus onto output rather than hours worked. Not all tasks need to be done at a specific time. Thinking about the tasks that can be done on their own terms would go a long way to support single parents.
When it comes to more place-based sectors such as hospitality, travel and care, a little more effort is required, but it is entirely possible. It would support the economy and single parents greatly, if these roles were able to be self-rostered, or split-shifts could become the norm.
Find out more about the Single Mums Business Network