Lone parent. I prefer the term lone parent.
I had left my full time job at a grim start-up office in Manchester. They had promised me a different salary and were paying me less than agreed. They liked to ask me to make tea and cash cheques at the bank, using my car, my petrol. They liked to call me in the office and ask me which of the women should be sacked for being lazy. They liked to play games, call people names.
Well, I didn't like to work for them.
So I resigned.
In my naivety I walked out, took my car and drove home. To my home, mortgaged by myself (so proud - look what I had made for myself and my little girl!) Emily, aged 4 - cheeky, funny, clever. Home to a small furry hamster called Lulu, a small two-up-two-down terraced with high ceilings and an awkward rickety staircase. Not much. But everything at the same time.
I picked Emily up from nursery early that day. As she skipped down the path, her blonde hair streaming behind her, care-free, I explained that I would be home for a few days now so I could take her to nursery and back without rushing. I felt free. I felt like I deserved some time off with my little girl. That sounds stupid now, I know you don't "earn" time off work - but working 60+ hours a week to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table - a successful SINGLE MOTHER. It's tough to keep it all up. I was also doing my undergraduate degree in History via the Open University, trying to improve - always looking for the next thing, always forward thinking.
So for a minute there, I was actually glad I was out of work.
After a week, my house was spotless. I had rested, I had spent some real quality time with my girl. I could breathe. It was just what I needed - a break from the hamster wheel.
Looking back now that was all I needed - I had been pushed to the edge.
OK. I sat at my laptop, coffee in hand. Job applications. School Administrator, School Office Manager, Research Administration, Personal Assistant. I aimed to apply for three jobs a day.
I heard nothing back.
I had some money in the bank that I had saved. It would last us a month. We would be OK.
A month passed. No work.
Then there was no money. I made an appointment at the Job Centre. I thought that I would receive Jobseekers and that would tide me over. With Jobseekers we could buy food and essentials. The mortgage - well, I had no idea about that one. Council tax? Gas? Electric? How would I get money to put on those little pre-pay cards I used? I was starting to panic.
I was at the Job Centre for over an hour. Filling out forms, Emily squirming on my knee desperate to get home after nursery. The woman behind the counter was shocked when I explained the reason why I left my job. I realised I had made a mistake as she explained just how many people were applying for just one job that was advertised. I knew I would face an uphill struggle and I suddenly felt very silly for not sticking with my old job until I found another.
Once the forms were filled in, I asked her what now - when would I be paid?
What she said did not make any sense to me. I wouldn't be paid. They wouldn't help me with any housing costs and I didn't qualify for Jobseekers. The reasons were explained but all I heard was "nothing." I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
The next few days I was in a haze. I had no money. I would wake up just before I had to take Emily to nursery, drag a brush through my hair and plod on. No motivation. A clean house did nothing for me - I was alone with no money and no hope. I had nothing and I had no idea what to do. Most of all I felt stupid, silly and young. So very young. I lay on the couch for days in tears, waiting for a job interview, for that email to ping, the phone to ring.
I called my mortgage company, who were only too happy to tell me that they would give me three months' payment holiday. This meant that I didn't have to pay my mortgage for three months, which was music to my ears, but the catch was they would take an extra £40 per month every month after that for the duration of the mortgage term. What choice did I have?
I called my bank and asked for an overdraft. They were only too happy to give me an overdraft so that myself and my daughter could eat. They would charge me extra every month for the privilege.
I called the council about the council tax. This was the final straw and when they said I had to pay, I cried on the phone. I sobbed to the lady who said I would have to pay as they had sent me a red letter. They sent me a form. I had to fill in each of my outgoings. Everything was accounted for and essential. Gas, electric, food, etc. One item stood out like a sore thumb.
Tuition Fees - Open University - £90 per month.
The letter I received from the council two weeks later explained that I had £90 spare each month for non-essentials so I had to use that money to pay them.
I grew angry. It felt like the whole world was against me - how on earth was I meant to support myself and my child, and improve myself when they were putting me down and putting me down. I was frightened I would lose my house, scared for my baby girl. I felt inadequate, down-trodden. Doing my coursework at night I would wonder why I bothered. I applied for ALL JOBS. Cleaner, Bar Maid, Receptionist, Apprentice....
I was out of work four months in total. As soon as I started my employment at the University of Manchester I felt whole again. I got up and walked with a spring in my step. I paid off what I owed and I vowed never to get out of work ever again. Never to let the bastards grind me down.
And I got my degree. First class, too. Fancy that.