Jennifer has three boys aged thirteen, nine and five years old. When Jennifer first joined the study in 2013, she had been separated from her husband and had been looking after her boys and living on income support for five years until she began studying at a local further education college. Until she started doing her college course, she was lacking in confidence, skills and felt vulnerable. She felt embarrassed and stigmatised that she lived on benefits on a council estate and was keen not to be perceived as either a bad parent or a scrounger.
Life is a struggle on her own with three boys and Jennifer feels that their poverty has a negative effect on all the family. Through a local service, however, Jennifer did a course aimed at increasing lone parents’ confidence, skills and capacities. This was a lifesaver for Jennifer. She says it was ‘an excellent course and should be compulsory for all lone parents on benefits’. It gave her the confidence to do an HNC at the local college and to begin volunteering, to which she attributes her continued increase in confidence and skills. She says that, unfortunately, due to government cuts, the service that did so much to help her no longer exists.
In the second year of the study, Jennifer was about to start an HND, having completed her HNC, but instead found a job that she loved. This means that for Jennifer and her boys, their financial situation, and life generally, have changed significantly for the better. As regards her job, Jennifer says:
‘I totally love it. I’m really, really happy, so last year was a great year for me. I passed my driving test, got my wee car, which I saved up and paid for myself, and I took my kids on holiday. I just worked my socks off last year and for me it really paid off. I love it, totally love it’.
Jennifer explains how the knowledge that she has completed a college course and succeeded in getting a job she loves immediately afterwards has had a positive impact on her children, particularly her eldest son (who will be 14 later this year). She says:
‘Especially my oldest, not really my youngest ones, but my oldest one, he’s often said to me “It’s good the way you are now, you’re really happy now. Remember when it was like this?” So he feels a positive change. So that’s really good’.
On discussing her successful change in circumstances, Jennifer attributes the change to the support that she received a number of years ago from a voluntary organisation providing support to lone parent families. Working with them enabled her to build skills, make friendships, networks, confidence, self-esteem and gave her the skills and confidence to go to college. In her own words, Jennifer explains:
‘It’s made me realise, like, my self-worth, I think, because I think... overnight I became a single mum with three kids having to go on benefit, struggling, housing benefit, having to go into the job centre, feeling so low, feeling demoralised, feeling put down, ken like I was nothing eh? That was really, really how I felt. I was so low. Because I think they gave me something more to focus on, in a roundabout way, looking back, it took me on this wee journey to where I am now. I have to be thankful for that’.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity and photos of models are courtesy of © NHS Scotland 2011.