Certainly as a single-mum you are often made to feel as though you are committing a crime against society if you are not in employment, a crime if you work part-time and are in receipt of housing benefit and a crime if you work full-time and have to leave your child(ren) for the best part of the week.
Founder of the SMBN Julie set-up the networking group not only to change public perception on Single Mums but to raise awareness of the issues faced by any mum in finding work that enables her to be present for her child(ren).
The SMBN is designed to concentrate on helping single-mums, not only fight for financial independence, but deal with the stigma and humiliation they face during that process. The ultimate aim of the SMBN is to make it easier for mums in general to work during school hours, for a good wage, with the flexibility to attend parent friendly events at the school, and to raise awareness of the employers, agencies and associations that are actively working to make flexible professional work a reality (we love them).
Right now for many single-mums the only hope seems to be to be self-employed, and in that reality the SMBN will support these members of society in their personal and professional growth. This support is inspired by Julie’s own journey of transitioning from being a married homeowner to a single-mum on benefits in rental property, and the impossible situation that that creates… here she shares a little of her story.
Whilst on maternity leave from work the company that Julie worked for was sold and whilst protected by TUPE, the terms and location of the new employment meant that Julie had to return to the drawing board for work. Julie knew very early on in her pregnancy that she would be a single mum, and determined not to bring her child up in poverty Julie embarked on a Law Degree to improve her career prospects to enbale her to provide for her daughter in the future. Julie knew that this would take several years but working in her daughters timeline instead of her own gave her an entirely new perspective on time.
Julie had designed the KIH Bed when she was pregnant, and felt morally obligated to share it, following such great feedback from her midwife, massage therapist, family and friends, and so she turned into a necessity entrepreneur, but not before dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, following an earlier miscarriage the safety of this product was the most important thing to throroughly pull apart before introducing it the the market, but this took a couple of years. Julie was already in a situation where she had moved to income support, and it was hell (sanctioned for borrowing £20 from her mum and not declaring it as income). A negative income where there was literally no disposable income. There was no way to cut back; drinking, Sky TV, manicures, take-outs, movies, new clothes etc, etc, etc were all things of the past. It took Julie 5 months to find the £30 to get the material to make the first cover and so on and so on and after 2 years of finding the pennies (mainly by eating sandwiches all week instead of nutritional food) Julie was finally able to present an extensive business plan and the finished product, fully health and safety tested and british standards compliant to a charity, who made her world by granting a loan to launch the business. Julie moved from income support to working tax credits but failed to declare that she wasn’t yet earning from the business which made matters even worse.
Julie was still studying and also trying to work part-time but living week to week and immediately declaring a job left a painful 3 week gap of recaluculation with no income and no means to borrow, unable to find a cheaper property (despite immaculate rent history), all of these things due to the stigma of being a single mum in receipt of housing benefit with no guarantor. The stress was insane, no money, and then finally a recalculation of benefits meant less support and higher bills. It doesn’t pay to work, not because benefits are so easy because they are not, it is degrading and humiliating and it does not matter that you paid your contributions full-time for 20 years, people will point out that you are a burden to society, and more painfully that your child should not be their problem. Julie never had that attitude in the previous 20 years that she had paid into this system that supported state schooling and NHS etc.
Studying, building a business, suddenly feeling like a piece of * and unable to justify part-time work (because of the (legal but unethical) low pay) and added school holiday stress Julie tried giving the business her all again, but still without marketing budget, and people want money, you need money to make money, that is reality, if you do not have access to funds promoting yourself is very hard. (and this is a very strong focus of the SMBN to help this PR). People won’t give you massive exposure at an exhibition and let you pay over time despite this being your best chance at becoming financially free.
Julie tried working full-time, but again it was too heartbreaking, the hours meant 8am drop off and 6pm collection. With a young child sleeping 7-7 where is the chance to connect, to be a mum, to check how they are coping with school and do their homework and cook their tea. It is okay to want to be a hands-on mum, this is not a crime and what is wrong with humanity if they see fit to make this feel like a crime. Unable to cope with a 2 day parenting role and essentially still in relative poverty due to inflation with everything but wages Julie decided to wait until she completed her law studies and work and pay higher contributions once her daughter was a little older and better opportunities surfaced.
Still, sustaining the business was tough, the changes in income resulted in so many recalculations and stops that Julie’s only hope was to grow company income instead until she could draw a wage and kiss contribution based benefits goodbye. Still this was not understood and Julie was penalised by those she had previously paid to help her, (not premeditated) by her bank accounts being pulled apart and every transaction and invoice questioned (despite full accounts) and her being told that she should not be working at all if she could not yet draw a wage. Very short sited and dismissive of the company supporting the UK economy in it’s own right, and so Julie faught, and faught, and argued that this was the only way to give her a fighting chance at being a mum and breaking free from benefits in a couple of years, instead of needing support for another decade.
Julie’s company is now in its 6th year and she is very close to being a higher tax bracket earner, she is incredibly passionate about how unethical these issues are and she celebrates and supports single-mums living the hell that is trying to be a full-time mum and financially free.
It shouldn’t be hard at all in this day and age, we have the technology to communicate 24/7 in so many ways. Julie has 50 hours a week between 9-3 and from 7pm to knuckle down and juggle and so does every other capable single-mum out there. E-mails are prepared at 11pm and sent at 9am so as not to be invasive and when Julie’s daughter turns around to look for her in parent assembly, she is there, and she wishes that for every other mother (and father) who wishes that for her(him)self.
Julie is no longer ashamed of her own journey, she is more ashamed of the people who are ignorant enough to judge it, but forgiveness is key, ignorance is genuine and all we can do is support each other and slowly change the general perseption of single mums and short-term receipt of benefits. Many Single Mums in Business are already financially independent and very well off, and the SMiB that are in receipt of support are so for a very short period of their life, it benefits were a lifestyle ‘choice’ they would not be out there building a business and fighting to be working, and a full-time mum (as far as the child knows).
Julie has shared her story so that those who resonate can join the SMBN, and know that wanting to be a mum, and work, and needing some short-term help is not something to be ashamed of. Working life is 15-70 for most of us. Contributing for 40 or 50 years and needing help for 5 or 10 is not something to be ashamed of. Having that unhurried conversation with your child at the end of the school day is what matters for the greater good.
The SMBN where single mums in business join forces to support and feel supported. The most important objective of the SMBN is to help your business grow quicker, by helping you raise your profile, and to enjoy the comradeship of those who have already survived and thrived the SMiB journey.