Single parents feel forgotten amidst Covid pandemic

Video: Rebecca Spencer

As England begins the second lockdown of 2020, single parents are fearful of what challenges the winter will bring.

The first lockdown made many individuals across the world feel isolated and helpless, but single parents, in particular, had a fountain of responsibilities to face alone.

Single parent charity Gingerbread saw a 130 per cent increase in helpline calls in March compared to before the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Gingerbread said: “The impacts of dealing with the financial and practical effects of Covid-19 while also having sole responsibility for yours and your child’s mental and physical health are enormous.”

Gingerbread has made a plea for financial help by creating a Just Giving campaign which has so far raised £10,322 to fund the extra staff needed to answer helpline calls.

Government restrictions

The government restrictions that were introduced to slow the spread of Covid made many single parents’ day to day tasks unmanageable.

Being asked to work from home and carry out home-schooling with your children was not possible for many, without two adults in the house.

Kingston resident Emma Warner, 34, explained: “As a single parent with depression it was so hard to get everything done.

“At the beginning we were quite good with the home-schooling, but it sort of fizzled out because it was too much of a struggle to get my 12-year-old, who has autism, to get the laptop out at 9am.”

Warner explained that the mental well-being of her two daughters was negatively affected as they weren’t able to see their dad for three months.

“The rules weren’t very clear about whether their dad could come and see the children,” she said.

Tosh Brittan, 51, a separation life coach and single mother to a 19 and 17-year-old from Petersfield, said she thought the government had not considered the effects restrictions had on single parents.

“How many of the decision-makers are single parents? There was just no thought when government regulations were created,” said Brittan.

Stephen Walker, 40, single dad to a 13-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son from Darwen, said: “I couldn’t believe it when the government told us that you couldn’t take your kids to the supermarket, well what were we supposed to do?”

The government did introduce ‘support bubbles’ into guidelines on June 12, which allowed single parents to socialise with another household for support.

Support bubbles – which have been allowed to continue in the latest lockdown – were a lifeline for many isolated single parents, but many felt they were introduced too late.

The online community

Although single parents have felt let down by the government, many have used social media as a platform of solidarity for single parents across the UK.

Helen Smith, 39, a single mum from Preston, reached out to other single parents on social media as she struggled with her mental health after splitting up from her partner and father to her children in May – right in the midst of the pandemic.

Smith said: “It was really lonely and difficult because I couldn’t even hug my mum and dad.”

Smith came across a Facebook page called Single Parents United which was set up in July 2019 by Stephen Walker and James Nivan, both single parents themselves.

The page aims to bring single parents together in meet ups both on and offline to combat loneliness.

Smith said: “There’s no great time for a break-up, but this has just been the biggest test of my life because it was so isolating.

“That’s why I’m so glad to have the Single Parents United page where I can talk to people who understand, I dread to think what would have happened to me without it.”

Walker, founder of the Single Parents United community, is extremely passionate about the cause and aims to reach out to as many single parents across the UK as possible.

He travelled down from Preston to hand out flyers and posters across the streets of London on October 17, in order to grow the Single Parents United Community.

Walker said: “If I had millions of pounds, I would make sure every single parent had a laptop or a smart phone so they can access the online community.”

Walker struggled with mental health issues himself when he became a single parent, which was what sparked the idea to create an online platform of solidarity for single parents.

“I think if I went through my divorce during Covid the odds would have been really stacked against me because you can’t see people to access emotional support, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Walker.

Stephen Walker and his children stand proud in their Single Parents United merchandise
Credit: Stephen Walker

Brittan uses the internet to reach out to people struggling with separation through YouTube videos, podcasts, webinars and Facebook groups.

She said: “Covid has created online conversations that have been a lifeline to so many single parents.”

Although Brittan understands the mental challenges that the pandemic brings, she encourages her followers to see the pandemic as a positive opportunity for reflection, rather than a hindrance to happiness.

“Isolation makes us look at the stuff that we tend to sweep under the carpet in busy life, the pandemic has asked people to really look at themselves,” Brittan said.

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