Why I help ‘Single’ Mums in Business
We see networking for women, networking for men, networking for both, and charities for just about every adverse situation out there, and I support all of them, but my speciality is as a single mum in business, and the challenges faced, that will be detailed in this blog.
Now I’m a happy single mum, and there are real problems out there, I feel full of gratitude on a daily basis that we are healthy, and that we have a home, and I am grateful that we have a system to help each other in our of need, but the gratitude aside, there are still serious issues that need addressing, as we are living in despair, and people are committing suicide.
The Blog (forgive typos no proof reading here!)
I am passionate about flexible working as a rule, as I have blogged on previous occasions, i.e. see my article on 9-5 working aka Manmade Manslaughter here
In my experience there’s not a single mum that does not love work (at least those who have experienced it and are not imprisoned by their own culture), what they don’t love is missing out on being with their babies, especially when they are forced to work full-time (when they know they can get so much done in 20 hours – plus the evening if need be) and when they are working for a wage that is somewhere between minimum and living wage (which is not adequate at all) again, see my blog on working for poverty and self-employment here
You can see all of my blog posts by following this link https://juliehawkinsblog.wordpress.com/blog/
The SMBN Blog site is: www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com
Now there are some serious gamechangers out there, who promote flexible working for real pay, and here are the ones I know about:
If you are an agent specialising in part-time and flexible work, for REAL pay, let me know about you and I’ll add you in! UK Only please. As the SMBN is aimed at the UK.
So, there is a reason I am concentrating on Single Mums in Business. Because whilst the above mentioned agencies are working their butts off to expand the mindset of employers, we are still a long way off every mum (and I say that because I was perfectly happy working 12 hour days before I was a mummy) being able to work 20 hours a week, for £20 an hour – yes – that really is what inflation should dictate wages to be. Every mum should be able to pay her rent or mortgage, bills, food, fuel, and the extras such as Sky TV AND have some disposable income left over, to invest, or save, or enjoy, and if you’re in a couple even better. More tax on wages and no need for WTC, CTC, HB, UC or anti-depressant tablets or suicide.
The reason I help SMiB (Single Mums in Business) is because if you are married, whilst it may be extremely difficult, your partner can support you whilst you are building your business, if you are single, what you earn with one hand is taken out of the other, so imagine that your husband agrees to support you, and you make £200 in sales in month 1. This will increase your family income and you can either spend it or invest in in your business, PR, or creditors.
Now imagine this, you earn £200 and so the Gov put a stop on your husband’s wages, because you have to tell them immediately, and they won’t say, okay you’ve earned £200 so we’ll take £150 off your husband’s wage, they will just stop it, your family will have no income, you will have to survive for a number of weeks whilst they look at your bank statements, check your accounts, and then they will release whatever portion of your husband’s wage they think is sufficient for you to live on now that you’re bringing in money too, it does not matter if the next month you may earn less, you have to go through the process every time your income changes. You will be in despair in a very short space of time, you will be desperate for a steady income and to utilise your skills in the sanctuary of employment, but that in itself is a challenge, to find work that will permit work life integration and harmony. That should not be a big ask, in every profession, there are people who want to work different hours, and students who want to work holidays.
If at this point you are getting touchy about benefits, educate yourself by reading this blog before you continue. The SMBN understands ignorance, and so without malice we aim to dispel some misconceptions.
They say that you spend 10’000 hours doing something you are a master. I therefore declare myself a Master in being a Single Mum in Business.
“The 10,000-hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that, ‘Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.
Now this is a long blog, it is likely that it will be printed into a little book – for people like me who actually hate spending hours looking at the computer! When I print it as a booklet I’ll let you know – Please sign up to the newsletter here to be kept up to date with all things SMBN. Your data will never be shared. So whilst the summary comes to an end, we enter the stories that I share of my own personal experience of a Single Mum, I could not share these stories for years, because I allowed other peoples opinions to affect me. But now I do not mind. I have been harassed and trampled on and beat enough to tell it as it is, and take the backlash on the chin, in order to help others in the same or similar situations. I also have light at the end of the tunnel, so it is easy for me to speak in hindsight. I could not do this if I thought I was in a hopeless situation, as many have very little hope at all.
Since becoming a Single Mum in 2012 I have worked part-time, I have worked full-time, I have worked freelance and I have sustained my own business, I have been threatened with sanctions and set-upon by bailiffs, sent by the very people I spent 20 years to be there for me in my darkest hour, as a result of their calculation errors. I have made mistakes, and I have learned lessons. And I am not going to sit by and watch millions of women (and men) struggle, without doing my little bit to point out where there are some issues that needn’t be there.
Crucially the way things are at the moment is that Single Mums are very vulnerable, extremely vulnerable, and if they don’t succeed in business in the first 12 months, to such a level that they can not only meet costs, continue marketing AND draw a wage, not just a little wage, but a wage that is considered to be in line with what they would earn if they were employed, then they are facing a being forced back into employment when potentially their business could take them off benefits completely in a matter of a couple of years, and support the economy, and create jobs, but instead they will be back on an unethical wage, likely to need benefits for another decade (ish) and living in relative poverty the entire time, with no chance to put money aside for a mortgage.
These women will not be able to be with their children after school or in the holidays and they will not be able to nurture these new lives in their most precious years. Yet this is only because of our closed mindset as a society in general, all these issues would be alleviated with part-time work for GOOD pay. In line with inflation! There is a real responsibility here, that should be with the Gov. but they are so out of touch with the reality of living on the breadline that the responsibility needs to fall on employers. How can you capitalise at your employee’s expense? They are vulnerable! They need you to pay them more. Of course, they cannot to tell you how much they are struggling, you will replace them for somebody who will work for that amount.
I once tried to explain my relative poverty to my employer, his response was ‘nobody likes a victim’ and then he withheld my annual £500 bonus and paid himself a £10,000 bonus (paperwork left for all to see), that was alongside his wife’s salary, his children’s salaries (who did not work at the company), and the panic purchase of new equipment before the year end, all to evade tax. I will make myself accountable now that when I need somebody to help me run my business, I will not trample on them so that I can take expensive holidays and have a car for each mood. They will be remunerated above any legal guidelines of what is deemed to be acceptable, because I know the reality, whereas the budget minister does not.
The issue here is that in my 20+ years’ experience of employment, I know that this is not an isolated situation, this is accepted behaviour by company bosses, and whilst this country tackles modern slavery in it’s greatest sense, it does not tackle the real life issue of half of society living in relative poverty, as a direct result of low pay, whilst the other half think it is normal to have £1000 per week disposable income, because they control the people who help them sustain their businesses.
I know I digress a little but until these issues are properly addressed, most mums, single mums especially need to earn a ‘real living wage’ and it seems the only hope for them is self-employment. And I know many of these women are doing this on a budget, and so my focus is to help them gain enough exposure to succeed in their business, as they are really up against it timewise now, and need to succeed to achieve the lower income floor in a very short space of time. Punished it would seem for fighting for their life. I think a lot of women in business would openly admit that their husband needed to carry them for more than 12 months whilst they started their business – and likely input a little cash too.
My personal experience
I was working full-time until 2 weeks before my daughter was due, and I was visiting childcare providers as I was quite sure I would want to get back to work full-time in 6 weeks, I was particularly unkeen on the idea of being home all day when I could be in the zone at work. But of course, all that changed (way beyond my imagination) when I gave birth to this little dependent bundle – there was no way I was handing her over to somebody else. I wanted to respond to every need, I could put her on the breast for every feed, change her nappy, cuddle her with every cry, nothing was more important than making her feel safe, and loved, and nurtured. I was very content in my decision to use the full year of maternity leave and was confident that I would be able to return part-time and be flexible around sports day for years to come, my employer was great, and a mum, and all seemed well.
But then that all fell apart as my employer sold the business during maternity leave, and the TUPE conditions were inflexible and due to location and hours I would have seen my daughter on a Sunday only, and if I was luck with traffic half an hour before bed. My long-term plans were okay, I had embarked on my law degree and I had a ten-year plan, but I had an interim problem. Firstly, I needed to sign-up for Income Support, this was horrible, I was made to feel like I was work shy, a bum, people started saying ‘why should we pay for your kid’ and I couldn’t take it all in, let alone respond. Hence my aforementioned blog about holding your head up high on benefits. Finding part-time work was so hard, and when I did find it, it was taken out of my benefits, and because part-time work is what everybody wanted, they paid the minimum wage at the time, it was something like £6.20 an hour (ish) – I had twenty years’ experience and was in charge of book-keeping, payroll, website management and office management, for pennies. It was heart-breaking, but if I didn’t do it somebody else would. I loved working, but I was broke, it didn’t pay, I cannot reiterate enough that benefits do not pay either, but when you are in the same situation, but having to find childcare for holidays and being even worse off financially it just doesn’t make sense. I became stressed and intolerant of my employer’s shortcomings, and so I walked.
I found another part-time job, but again it was working til 5pm and I missed my girl, my wages were low, my outgoings high, I figured that if I was to be living in relative poverty I would rather do it with my daughter in my arms. Each time I found work I immediately notified benefits and my income was halted immediately, I was living week to week, I did not have credit facilities and this killed me, I was chasing them up and again, being treated like an absolute waste of space for needing help. I was once called into the DWP office, once again they wanted to go through my bank accounts with a fine tooth comb. I was pulled up on £20 that I had borrowed from my mum, the lady behind the counter asked me why I did not declare it as income, I cried that I had had to borrow £20 off my mum to see me through and that I had to pay her back a week later, she was stone cold, she that that I was lucky not be sanctioned and stood her ground that this was income, even if it was a loan. I was being as honest as I could by but they always crucified me over something.
Somewhere amongst all of this I lost my home. I did have a tenant and I rented a cheap flat. When the tenant left I knew that I could not afford to move back in, and my concern, because I am very ethical was that I would not be able to pay for maintenance, I did not want to take a new tenant and end up being a landlord from hell. I could not sell the property as it was in negative equity from a secured loan I had taken when my husband and I had two full-time salaries. We had tried to sell the house a couple of years earlier, but NRAM wanted £120K and Welcome Finance wanted £17K, as the house only sold for £135K neither would release £2K into an unsecured loan, and so the sale fell through. I was left with a property I could not sell, could not afford to live in, and was nervous to rent out as I wanted to be a responsible landlord.
I had a lovely chat with NRAM (formerly Northern Rock), they were wonderful, they told me to get a tenant in, withhold the rent at which point they would ‘take charge’ of the property, which would mean that they would collect the rent directly and pay any urgent repairs like the boiler out of the mortgage account. I was so relieved, but they were dirty. They knew the law, I didn’t, as soon as the 6 months passed they evicted the tenant (who I promised a long-term home) for no reason, she was an ideal tenant and she paid her rent (higher than the mortgage amount) on time every month, and they sold the property for £115K, leaving me with no home (that I had invested £60K into over a ten year period), and a big fat debt with welcome finance, and an (understandably) angry lodger, but they followed the terms and conditions. I was too naïve, and I share this to warn others. I did take it up with the Ombudsman, and NRAM settled with a full and final settlement of a £100 cheque, which I was so desperate for money I accepted.
I now had no access to credit, and on paper not only was I a single mum on benefits, but also one with a bad credit score and no guarantor = no access to rental property. It did not matter that I never defaulted on rent. I was black on paper and nobody would have me, I moved from one bad property to another (the ones that nobody else would take) either mouldy, or too small, or too big and too expensive (ironically) I just continually took what I could get, normally short-term rentals. Fitting social housing was not available, I did move into a small flat (that nobody else wanted) but I did not have money for a fridge, carpet (or other flooring) cooker, curtains or blinds, nothing, I could not obtain a loan and I was threatened with eviction before my HB had been recalculated. I was above drug-dealers and I had to get out of there. I found a home but the landlord didn’t want me, I convinced him I was decent and I offered him £50 a month extra on top of what he was asking for rent for the initial six month contract to persuade him to let me in (you have no idea how that feels), he let me in, and after 6 months I reduced £50 back to the rental asking price, that anybody else would have paid. We argued about that and he immediately served me notice and illegally cut off my gas supply in the process. I found another house, one that was too expensive, by now business was picking up, but I had to borrow every penny to make up the rent shortfall. I could not spend any money on PR and business fell flat.
I was too scared to tell WTC that I was not earning and so I pretended I was earning from the business when I wasn’t, consequently my support reduced and my Council Tax increased and I was in the depths of despair again, I was borrowing from Payday loans at 1000% or more APR. I could only dream of getting a loan at 50% APR but I did not have a guarantor (5% loans were something of the past). I could only dream of finding a long-term rental property, but I did not have a guarantor. I think if I could have found a decent rental property that wasn’t too expensive, or too mouldy, or short-term in the beginning I would have kept finances consistent and managed okay, albeit without disposable income but I was okay with that. I would never expect to be well off on benefits, just not homeless or hungry, I had my long-term plan that would bring disposable income, I was grateful for the support really. Our grandmothers had to hand their children over to care, I thank my lucky stars every day that we have a system, but there are still many issues that need addressing.
The price you pay for debt or struggling is a longer sentence than you pay for any crime.
This is a short-one. I couldn’t cope any more, with the humiliation, I had to sacrifice being a hands on mum. I searched for full-time work, and I found it. I called the benefits office and was so proud to say I didn’t need help anymore. But then within a matter of weeks I broke down, the Council Tax was maximum, the Tax Credits stopped, the HB stopped, the childcare bill went up, my daughter was crying that she missed me, all before I was paid my first wage. I was penniless and when my wage came in there was nothing left for the month, I had no more than £20 per week to buy us food. I was crushed, I broke down, my employer put her arms around me and told me I wasn’t alone any more. She told me that she would guarantor a secure property for me cheaper than my existing rent, and a loan to help me get on top. I had never known such kindness, when I presented her the amazing 50% APR loan that I had managed to get with a guarantor she turned on me, she told me that she was no idiot and there was no way she would guarantor a loan for 50% APR – she let me go immediately, I felt like a thief. I thought that 50% was good, compared to the average 1279% APR payday loans. I was wrong, I made a mistake and paid a heavy price, I was back home and reapplying for help until I either grew my business, or found a decent pay job, or graduated and found qualifying employment. I wrote to the government and pleaded – how can I work? I want to work? And they sent me a reply that the Government were introducing something called Universal Credit, that would make it pay for everyone to work, but they didn’t reply to the points in my e-mail. I’m looking for the letter. Meanwhile the farm hand working on the site I was renting one of their properties from decided I was easy prey as a single mum. He banged on my door in a drunken state and forced his way in telling me how this could go, I don’t know how I did it but I shoved him back out that door and locked it behind him. I was shaking and I realised once again how vulnerable I felt, this was not the first time a man did not care what my wishes were, and so shaking like a leaf I ran upstairs and applied for properties, I took what I could get and moved, I begged the (very wealthy) farm owner to take the keys back early and explained what had happened, but he would not, I was liable for 2 rents for two months. He then harassed me to pay more than I could pay (whilst I did not hesitate to pay it £100 a month was not enough for him) he put a CCJ on me, at least I felt safer this way, I felt protected by the CCJ. He could no longer harass me and I was paying what I could afford, and nothing more. What I cared about was feeling safe, I was already scum in the eyes of credit scoring so the CCJ by this point felt comfortable.
Of course I picked myself up, and decided that I would need to rely on benefits a little longer and do all I could to grow my business and keep studying and continue my quest to go from being in the bottom 10% to the top 10% (I’m openly admit I’m not there yet but I know I will be). I began to make peace with the fact that I had paid into the system for years and would continue to do so for years and that this help was temporary. I also knew at this point I would help others in my situation. All I ever needed was either a guarantor, or a decent loan to enable me to PR my business or pay my bills annually. Of course, this is another serious issue. If you cannot pay annually not only are you charged more for paying monthly, you also have no chance of a disposable income as you have to pay out for so many things every month. And many of these do not offer standing orders, only direct debits, and so when you are a couple of days out you get a bank charge (now I can hear voices saying manage your money better, but again, not judging, this is genuine ignorance on your part and I’m genuinely happy for you that you don’t understand this), and a charge from the company for the DD bouncing. I also covered this in my Rewarding the Rich and Penalising the Poor Blog – and so with self-employment being the only possible way to earn enough money to live on.
I finally managed to move into a long-term affordable property, and I had managed to find a school hour job, that whilst evened out my deduction in benefits it was so nice to be back at work. I received a letter with a bill for money owed for council tax and over payment of housing benefit due to miscalculations, two years earlier. I had always declared everything, the error was not mine, but I did not have a leg to stand on, I negotiated repayments but they wanted me to pay the full amount over a 26 week period, this was quite literally impossible, I could not meet there demands and so they instructed bailiffs. I agreed to pay the bailiffs over 52 weeks, after around 40 weeks I missed a payment, something had set me back, but then I made the next payment and resumed normal payments, I was so excited to be so close to getting rid of that debt that was crucifying my weekly food budget. I had taken my daughter for a walk to feed the ducks. Days out were still out of budget and so that is what we did on a weekend. I carried her back in my arms as she was tired out and there he was, waiting on the doorstep, the bailiff was there to take something away, it took every ounce of my spiritual strength not to cripple with emotion, I did not want my daughter exposed to this, I calmly asked him why on earth he was there and he showed me the missed payment, I had defaulted on the bailiff repayment agreement and I was charged £250 for him to come to me to enforce it (I told him to walk away, I told him that it was clear that I was back on track with payments and that by coming out and applying a further £250 to my account, he was taking away another 3 months food budget) I told him I would call the office, when my daughter was at school, to protect her from the possibility of mummy breaking down, when I called the office I told the bailiff that I was sure his children would be proud of him, he told me not to make it personal. It could not be more personal as far as I was concerned. I had my daughter in my arms and he wanted to take something away. What made it even more sickening was that this debt was a miscalculation of benefits, that to this day I do not understand. I spent my working life paying tax for a system that could help me in my hour of need should I have one, and this is how they helped, by making errors, and not allowing the ‘debt’ to be settled at an affordable rate, and by setting bailiffs upon a vulnerable citizen with a young child. Despite my optimism of where I was going with law and business at this point it was only my daughter that stopped me from taking my own life, I had given up on humanity, and I was full of guilt for bringing a life into this horrible world. I was finished, my soul was dead.
My daughter, she deserved better, she got me through, I looked at her and I swore her story would not end like this, and she would not be financially vulnerable as an adult. And that is why I kept fighting, I graduated, I begged and I pleaded and I did all that I could, but this is not okay, this is not how society should be treating each other, and it is by business networking that I have met the most inspirational and supportive women out there, that give you just enough energy to fight another day. And that is why I have set up the SMBN, I will not watch women be forced to fail if they can’t turn a profit and draw a wage in a tiny window, I will not watch women be forced to leave their children, just because the man is not beside her.
There are so many different ways in which a woman becomes a Single Mum, sometimes abandonment, sometimes death, sometimes by so much previous brutality that she cannot let a man near her. There are so many good guys out there, but please do not judge the women who have ended up alone, we are all mums, we all love working, none of us want to dip into the pot we paid into. And the Single Mums in Business are without a doubt fighting huge battles behind the scenes, living with stigma, being the only ones responsible for managing their overheads and up against the system unwittingly keeping them down.
One other misconception. Just because you’re a single mum it doesn’t mean you want ‘to find a rich man’, if I was paid every time somebody said to me ‘you just need to find yourself a rich man or win the lottery’ I would be in the top 10% already. Just because we are single we do not lose our morals. If I partner up it will be because I feel at home with him, nothing more, nothing less. Being in a relationship should never be about money. Oh, and employers, just because a single mum is struggling, that doesn’t make her a liability or a thief. Clearly if she were that way inclined, she would not be struggling. If she tells you she is living in relative poverty, don’t block her from the bank account, listen to her. I have attempted a couple of dates. One guy said he fancied a Chinese, and when I told him that wasn’t in my budget he ordered one anyway, and sat there eating a massive plate of noodles in front of me, I decided he wasn’t my kind of person at which point he declared I should be grateful he wants me, as there weren’t many guys that would take on a single mum. Honestly, I don’t want taking on, I have never wanted taking on, and I am not dishonest person, or a liability, and I am also not looking for a father for my daughter, nor do I gamble on the lottery. I am a hard worker, and work shall get me thru, as are most single mums out there.
Quick apology for typos – I’m a passion blogger, I only proof read my ‘work’ if I proof read my blogs I would never press publish! I just let it all out and let it go!
Speaking of which, that’s my rant of the day over, back to work. Keep your heads-up ladies. You’re awesome xx
Here’s some useful links if you’re needing support whilst trying to work / build a business – you got this!