During week nine of self-isolation and lockdown, I was cooking dinner with my youngest grabbing at my legs when Cummings’ voice came beaming out over the radio. When he described the situation he’d found himself in – his wife became ill and he drove to Durham for family support – as “exceptional circumstances” all my emotions were triggered.
Cummings’ choice of words reminded me, and no doubt many other frolos and single parents, that despite accounting for 2.9 million people in the UK, our daily lives are often overlooked and misunderstood. At no point in early lockdown had the government considered our needs. This wasn’t surprising, government policies often treat us unfairly, businesses often charge us more for holidays and entrance fees, and many people can’t grasp how we have to navigate a world that is designed for couples. Fed up of feeling like a second class citizen, I knew I needed to do something about it.
A few days later I sat down and put pen to paper in order to scribe a raw and honest letter to Mr Cummings. My letter outlined how difficult life had been for me through lockdown – both in practical and emotional terms and how my mental health had taken a battering. I didn’t expect it to lead to any change, but I did want to know I’d tried my best and I hoped that, in amongst all the policy briefing papers he received, my handwritten words might just open his eyes a little.
This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to raise understanding of the life of the single mum. Since my eldest was a toddler I’ve been writing blog posts and trying to get single parent voices heard in an attempt to raise understanding and awareness. My hope was that, once we had more of that, single parents might be better supported too.
To my surprise, I received a reply to my letter via email. Two weeks later I was discussing support bubbles and other possible policy changes for single parents with an advisor from number ten. Were they really going to listen? Two days later it appeared they had – support bubbles were announced. I wasn’t the only one campaigning on this of course. Many others – single parents included – had been lobbying long and hard and now we’d had a success. While the support bubbles were a welcome change, the bigger shift was in the fact that Boris Johnson gave a special mention to the needs of single parents when he made the announcement.
Will this mark a shift in how this government – and successive ones – treat single parents? Will it bring us to the front of the government’s mind as they develop policy? It’s too early to say, but it does raise the hope that things for single parents might improve. Now they’ve let us out of the bag, they might find we are hard to put away again.
Single parent campaigners, myself included, aren’t sitting back and putting our feet up anytime soon. Our next push is for single parents to be granted equal rights with married people. For as it stands, unfair treatment of single parents isn’t considered discrimination because we aren’t a protected group in law. Being discriminated against by the anti-discrimination laws would be almost comical if it weren’t so cruel. Only once this legal oversight has been changed can we expect to be treated fairly by government, businesses and individuals.
Ella Davis writes a raw, honest and occasionally funny blog at www.ellamentalmama.com on the trials and tribulations of life in London as a single mother to two young boys.
She covers an eclectic mix of topics including mental health, divorce and donor conception. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @ellamental_mama and Twitter: @EllamentalMama