Single Parent Action Network
Empowering – Connecting – Campaigning

"SPAN saved my life!"

  • Tuesday, 11 February 2014 00:00

Lucille is a single parent with a 9-year-old daughter. Lucille has a degree in English Literature, but found it difficult to combine work and parenthood when her daughter was little. When her daughter turned 7, Lucille was no longer entitled to Income Support.  At the time she was working as a volunteer on a research project with SPAN investigating how single parents on job seeking benefits were treated by the Job Centre and the support they received to move into work.  She saw first hand the negative experience of single parents at Job Centre Plus claiming Jobseekers Allowance and so decided not to move onto the benefit herself but instead go for any work she could find.

“I’d heard so many bad things from the people on the research project about how they were treated (by the Job Centre), so I took any job. I would have been better off being on benefits but I still chose not to as I couldn’t face being treated so badly every couple of weeks.”

Instead Lucille moved into low paid and insecure care work earning just £65 a week.  “It was really hard...I had to pay everything apart from the rent out of this (£65)... I was trying to get extra hours but people only need the care they need, and they only want to pay the minimum.  If I’d got 16 hours I could have got tax credits but I couldn’t get the hours.

Lucille’s fear of dealing with the Jobcentre meant she struggled to pay her bills and got into debt.  She did everything she could to tackle the debt including selling presents she’d been given and visiting her family to eat meals.

“I’m quite a resourceful person, and we would eat pulses and things all the time, but it’s depressing to eat it all the time, sometimes you just want some meat.”

I tried to make sure we were eating by going to other people’s houses at mealtimes, it was like an unspoken thing, but they knew I was coming to eat and people would give us doggy-bags. It made me feel rubbish, like a bad parent.”

“I felt like I was just scraping by.  All our presents and Christmas money would go on bills, I would sell Christmas presents on Ebay, take all my daughter’s unworn clothes and sell them on Cash for Clothes.” 

But she just couldn’t shift the debt and events reached crisis point: “There was a time when they (the Electricity Company) were trying to get in to cut the gas off, they said next time if you don’t let us in we’ll get the police and get in with them”.  Lucille managed to borrow the money to pay the bill.

Lucille credits SPAN with helping her get out of poverty.  She’d been a user of SPAN since her daughter was 1 ½ and had become a face about the place who would do whatever voluntary work was going.”   After doing some volunteer work with SPAN she started to work on a research project on lone parents for which she gained 80 credits towards a Masters Degree. When the research was complete, SPAN presented the findings at an event in Parliament, and Lucille was asked to speak:

“I stood up and gave a speech to MPs and baronesses...I was shaking.  I felt really good after, amazing – not many people have got to do a thing like that...I didn’t think I would ever do anything like that in a million years.”

Working on the research project gave her confidence and made me want to get a job, and I improved my CV, and kept volunteering.”

A much better paid job came up working for a Housing Association that she “wouldn’t have dreamt of applying for” but “the careers advisor at SPAN pointed me in the right direction, they said have you seen this job advert, it sounds like you Then someone else coached me for the interview and someone else helped me write a presentation to give in the interview.”

She got the job, and in September 2013 began working 25 hours a week.  The hours fit in around her childcare responsibilities and provide her with a decent wage.

Of SPAN she says:

“SPAN’s amazing! Sometimes when I feel a bit over the top I think, SPAN saved my life.  I was so miserable and it saved me, and most of the friends I’ve got and the support I’ve got came through SPAN. I did a parenting course and that probably saved my relationship with my daughter and because of SPAN I now have the job I’ve got.”

To give something back and to help ensure that other single parents also get positive support, Lucille has recently joined the SPAN Board of Trustees.