‘Flexible Working isn’t an option.’ That’s what my employer confirmed during my maternity. I had to choose, my career or my daughter? I chose my daughter, and paid the price.

When I say I paid the price I want to be clear from the off, I do not and never have regretted choosing my daughter.  Every cuddle, every tear, every moment.  The priceless gift of looking after another life… but why do you have to pay the price financially when it would be so easy to turn 37.5 hours, into 30.

I was very happy at work.  I began working age 14 part-time, 16 full-time, and I barely took a day off in 20 years.  I loved work.  I bought a house, married, and my husband and I knew that it would be likely that I would be the one working whilst he was a stay-at-home dad.  But life doesn’t always work as you planned.

Within a couple of years of my first (failed) pregnancy with my husband, I was single and pregnant with a donor.  I loved my job, was satisfied that I would look after us both and as (what I felt like) a middle aged woman I was happy with my decisions, I worked for a small, very family friendly company, where the two mothers worked around school plays and childcare.  But during my maternity leave my employer informed me that she had sold the company, but I was protected under TUPE.

As soon as I knew I would be a single mum I embarked on a law-degree.  I wanted to improve my long term salary prospects to enable me to ensure that my child did not feel the pinch of being bought up in a single parent family, but this was a long-term plan.  A ten year plan.  Something I would have shied away from in my 20s but when you are working on a new life timescale instead of your own, ten years does not seem that long.

Then came the birth of my child, an unbreakable bond that I could have never have imagined, and I was very lucky, the breastfeeding worked really well from the off.  I had a very happy and content baby, and being single really helped me to be nocturnal with her and it did not matter if we slept at 5pm.  Six months in this was still working well, I had attempted to use a pump and a bottle but this messed up the natural production on demand and I produced too much milk that was painful.  Natural was best and so I just fed her and produced the right amount of milk required.  Too much detail for some I appreciate, but it is relevant, as you will see.

I was happy to return to work, but the new location of my work, with the hours, parking etc would mean that I would need to drop my daughter at childcare at 7:30 and I would have collected her at 7pm, 5 days a week, and a shorter day on a saturday.  I would have seen this child on sundays only.  I asked my employer if I could work in a different branch (parking outside) or work reduced hours.  The cold, firm response was ‘flexible working is not an option, the hours and location are fixed and that is what is required under your contract to meet the needs of the business’.  How could I leave this baby?  She needed me, to feed her, nurture her, care for her, instinctively know if she was okay and cuddle her if she cried.  I knew her nappy cry, her hungry cry, her cuddle me cry, and her I don’t feel so good cry.

I chose my child, I had to choose, I had a strong work ethic, long-term professional development plans and I wasn’t shy of looking for work, so I handed in my notice and started looking for part-time work… oh how naïve I was – I did not know that society constructively dismisses you when you are a mother or penalises you for needing to work in school / childcare hours by paying you peanuts.

Within 12 months I had lost my property, reposessed, I was googling what support was available, I had to learn about benefits and make phone calls whereby I was immediately treated as one of life’s scroungers, I was worrying about the cost of being on hold, I was worrying about everything.  I studied and hugged my child and promised her that I would sort this out, but I did not know how hard that would be…

I found a part-time job.  I had taken a 50% paycut for the privelege of working in childcare hours.  I kept looking for better work, but all of them were really low pay, minimum wage or not much over.  I did do them but this leaves you trapped in relative poverty with the additional stress of school holidays.  I was being forced into a life of benefits, tax credits, housing benefit, debt, loans, payday loans.. all because I could not work for my skillset or salary band for 20 or 30 hours instead of 37.5.  I am pretty peed about this.

I was now a single mum on benefits with poor credit, unable to get further loans, unable to get a secure property, unable to get a decent job, I was paying for expensive properties (the only landlords that would have me!) or mouldy properties, or short-term properties, and so on.  The long-term, average rent, decent properties were let out to those not like me.  For 20 years I never complained about a chunck of my wages going missing into a pot incase I needed it one day.  I was happy that we worked that way.  I knew what it was like not to have an NHS (I had to wire £500 abroad so that my sister could get hospital treatment in my 20’s).  I was happy to chip in to a society that looked after each other.  I was happy to chip in to state school as all my friends had children,  but gosh when you need it people really tear you to pieces and make you feel like the lowest of the low, and it is a hard cycle to get out of!  I turned to pay-day loans for rent deficit and this damage is permanent.

If I accept working part-time for low pay as a permanent solution – becuase I am a mum, I will need tax credits and housing benefit for the duration of being a mum, I will need pension credits when I am older and I will never have disposable income to save a deposit to buy a property, and so will forever pay into somebody else’s estate, or the estate of the Crown.  When my friends enjoy cruises in retirement I will be paying rent until the day I die with no disposable income.  All because I could not continue my career, and my salary, part-time.

I am fortunate that with my entrepreneurial mindset I have created a company and the SMBN to help other women in similar situations, but this is because I have been forced out of the sanctuary of employment, pensions, decent salary, great skillset.  Whilst the SRA allows a 20hr per week training contract this is not realistic in the profession, and so my expectations of entering the legal profession were also naive.

I see so many posts by hundreds of women asking what work they can do in school hours.  I see women sob because they drag their babies out of bed as their employer will not allow flexibility.  I see women stressed on forums because they are breastfeeding and under pressure to move to the bottle so that they can get back to work in a few months.  Women are targeted to work from home for free.  Millions of families in the UK are forced into relative poverty becuase the parent can’t continue his/her career AND be a parent.  It’s all for the sake of a few hours, we don’t all have grandparent childcare.  Families are locked into rental properties.  We have wealthy employers and wealthy landlords because the combination of being able to charge high private rent and pay employees a low wage, because the Gov say it’s okay, but the Gov do not live on this wage or pay this rent.  We have sheep instead of leaders.

It is a very sad state of affairs where a woman is punished for doing the most important job in the world.  Taking care of you.

I’m all for shared parental leave if it works for both parents, but if a woman is nurturing and feeding well then this must be the priority in the first 12 months.  Thereafter we should all be able to work and be parents.  And 15 weeks holiday? Schools all need free summer school.

For now I help women who are forced into self-employment gain exposure to their business, because they are TRYING to make it work, where culture has really let them down, and of course PR budget is an issue with all of the above considered, so they need somebody to help them!

Jules

http://www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com

 

 

 

Women Supporting Women and Female Empowerment. What about the men?

Those of you who follow my blog will know that they creep up on me and it’s normally a couple of months before I have enough clarity to post.  This one is no different, however, I have forced myself to push this out for International Men’s Day, and so there may be additions later.

I run a network for women only, I have long attended networks for women only, and I love anything that empowers women and brings us together to celebrate sisterhood instead of competitiveness, but of course I hear men cry ‘what about us?’ ‘Why can’t we come’ ‘You’d soon be complaining if there was a men only network!’ ‘you feminists are men haters’.  For those of you who don’t know this – there are men only networks and groups and there has been for many years. Masons (I know there’s a female branch too now) Buffs, Only Dads, Men & Boys Coalition and there are so many men setting up mental wellbeing networking groups for men only, so there’s plenty out there for you if you look for it, and there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own.

I can’t speak for other women as a rule, but certainly the women in my close network do not have anything against men, in-fact quite the opposite, we respect the masculine and enjoy the chance to be together in a feminine environment, where our talks take a slightly warmer, more maternal form of caring and sharing.  When I attend a mixed networking group I am prepared to hand over business cards and have superficial conversations, when I network with women only I know I can open up a little in a room full of attentive listeners, and I enjoy listening to them.

It is really important for men to know that they are not being ‘rejected’ per say… I don’t often hear complaints from men about not being invited if I talk about a knit & Knatter or pamper day, but if you mention ‘business’ this seems to upset a testosterone button..

Female Empowerment is great for men, women networking with women is great for men, whether under the umbrella of business or sewing.  We need each other! In other tribes women are together all of the time, not to talk negatively about men or scheme, just to be ‘sisters’, to work together, to support each other, and ultimately to feel much more content in their own being.

I was a terrible wife.  I was unhappy, inherently; there was nothing that my husband could have done, I was a ‘lonely’ woman.  If I had had the kind of life I have now when I was with him I would have been a much better wife, in every area.  You must have heard the saying ‘happy wife happy life’.  Trust me, female empowerment and women supporting women is not to dismiss men, it’s to help us feel connected and fulfilled as women, as nature intended, to be happy, to be strong, so that we are not miserable, insecure, lonely and bad tempered at the end of the day.  We don’t hate you we need you, we need you to understand that it’s not about you, it’s about us.

For years men have enjoyed sport, work, golf, meetings, freedom, and we have been isolated with our children & housework, or in an employed environment where our wings are clipped and our voices are not heard, and we have had to compete with each other instead of connect with each other, in work, relationships, and life.  Female Empowerment and Women Supporting Women is good for us, and it’s good for you!

So, on that note, happy International Men’s Day, and trust me, we want you to be happy too!

 

 

 

 

 

Employees are Vulnerable. It’s time to step up.

I have been laying awake at night of late thinking about how a significant proportion of society are living in relative poverty, and those of you who are familiar with my blogging will know that I don’t look for things to blog about, I have very little choice in the matter, I lose sleep and the universe will not permit me to sleep again until I say what needs to be said.

Yesterday, Oxfam (via Twitter) very kindly signposted me to their hard work on tackling UK poverty (amongst other things), and perfectly quoted:

‘When a company does not ensure a living wage is paid, the most vulnerable people in its supply chain suffer as a result. This is unfair and unsustainable.’

Source: https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/inequality/towards-a-living-wage

Now I do realise that living wage is better than minimum wage and I understand why people are taking baby steps, but then baby steps have not been taken in every other area of inflation and it is time we caught up.  Even living wage is not enough to enable people to live their lives every week, month, year, without worrying about meeting the rent or mortgage, and without being penalised by the banks or utility or insurance companies for having to pay monthly.  You will see my earlier blogs on penalised for being poor and inflation.  There is no quality of life for most people, just look at them in the supermarket, their spirit is dead and they cannot pick anything up without worrying if they can afford to include it in that week’s shop.

I came across this Guardian US tweet the other day, and whilst it is in the US it is absolutely bang on the nail for the issues faced in this country by public and private sector employees.

Please watch it here:  http://singlemumsbusinessnetwork.co.uk/useful-links/4594561112

Many company bosses will convince themselves that they are paying their staff a fair wage, mainly by comparing it with other similar salaries for similar roles, but do you remember your mum saying this ?’If somebody told you to jump in front of a bus would you do it?, no, use your own brain.

Employers must take a greater responsibility for ensuring that none of their employees are stressed about money, especially when it is as a direct result of them putting profits before people. The onus in on employers at the Gov are failing epically to look after their people, they are so out of touch that they are incapable of leading properly, and if you are waiting for them to force you to pay a higher wage then you are failing epically too.  I caught a glimpse of the Martin Lewis Money Show where MP James Brokenshire seemed to be quite chuffed with announcing the minimum wage has increased to £8.21.  (Parliament’s expenses watchdog confirmed the salary for MPs will rise from £77,379 to £79,468 from April 1. It contrasts with welfare benefits remaining frozen for a fourth year in row.  Ministers like Mr Brokenshire get a second salary on top) Now I’m sure he’s a nice enough chap, but ignorance is a very real downside humanity, you cannot lead what you do not understand, just as you cannot teach what you have not learned.

https://twitter.com/SMBN33422746/status/1113337409696149506

I am not interested in excuses.  Please do not pay your vulnerable staff a wage and then pay yourself significantly more, plus a significant bonus (and they really are vulnerable.  The thought of rocking the boat at work fills most people with fear of further poverty or hostility) .  Plus panic buy office equipment at year end to keep profits down and the tax bill low.  It happens everywhere.  You can not tell how much your staff are struggling by looking at them, but I guarantee that anything less than £10 is too little and this has to rapidly increase to £15 or £20 (support staff).

You may ask where this money will come from – if you do, please back it up with your accounts and personal expenditure v what difference the payrise would make to your bonus.  As for public sector pay.  We would all pay more tax, and there would be significantly less need for help, so this swings in roundabouts.

Employees are vulnerable.  Look after them like you would look after your own family, after all, they are helping you run your company.

I think that’s enough to let me sleep..

Although final note, I appreciate the process of working your way up the ladder, but the bottom of the ladder should not be in the gutter, as it currently is.  The only excuse for living wage is supported young / trainee people learning a trade, for a very limited period of time.

I also do not proof read my blogs, I am a passion blogger and I must press send before I read.  So apologies if typos offend you!

Jules x

 

 

 

Single Mums Business Network

I’ve been busy! See my other blog site www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com Slide3

I’ll still post blogs on here about all things that rattle my cage but the SMBN is taking over for now! Caring & Sharing X

Working for Poverty & Self-Employment

‘It doesn’t pay to work’.  This is something I have heard for many years and the words have caused me great discomfort.  It is often perceived that living on benefits is a comfy lifestyle option, and with great analysis I have reached my own conclusion, which of course I am sharing as we all know I love to put the world to rights, as I see it.

My working life began age 14.  I was working as a waitress for £2.50 an hour.  An eight and a half hour working day bought me in £21.25p.  You will see an image below to evidence this (I had no idea why I had kept this for nearly 30 years until now.  I just trusted that I needed to!).  The wage slip is from when I had just turned 15, and it was before I was issued an NI number.  The minimum wage today, 27 years later is £3.70 for an apprentice, and £4.20 for school leaving age.  Source Acas

You can start to see where I am going with this, but at this point I recommend getting a coffee, as I have much to say on the matter!

When you look at inflation of property, food, living costs, fuel, taxes, and everything else, nothing compares, nothing at all (sorry Sinead).  It is beyond diabolical and completely unforgivable.  You will know if you follow my blogs that I do not do stats, I am quite simply too lazy, but here are some links for you to read A Telegraph article from ‘last week’ on how prices have changed over 30 years and A Sunlife article from 2016 on house prices The Telegraph article is great to read, I love seeing that the collective consciousness is on the same page with this.  You will see that there is evidence of a 500% house price increase.  That would suggest to me that the intern should now be on a minimum wage of £12.50 an hour, and the minimum wage should be more like £20 an hour (at least).  You may think that is completely unreasonable but unfortunately that is society following suit.  Employers are all following government guidelines and consequently are getting away with it, enjoying huge profits and fat top line salaries at the expense of their employees.  CIPD have recently published a report which again, is music to my ears about employee wellbeing with respect to financial strain, I am passionate about employee wellbeing and this report supports that low pay causes stress.  Read it here

Now I appreciate that the government are making some attempts to address ‘equal pay’ and I am pleased to see that the government plan to introduce CEO / Employee pay gap reporting see People Management article written by Dawn Lewis but I fear the workers on the ground are still left living in poverty whilst the government are too afraid to tackle the real issue – that is a ridiculously low minimum / living wage.  It is modern day slavery at it’s very best, and most concealed.

Employers are kidding themselves that the wages they are paying are acceptable, and that it is okay for their staff to live in poverty whilst they enjoy living in the top 10%.  Please! What is wrong with us? How is this acceptable? How has this happened?  Who calculates the living wage? Shame on you.  Is this a presumption that two people share the bills? A very historic assumption.  Is this genuine ignorance of today’s living costs? An average minimum of £1k per month on rent and bills (outside of London), for a single person.  With a minimum wage of £7.83 for age 25 and over, your average ‘hard-working’ adult, working a 40 hour week (9-5 – Man Made Manslaughter – see my earlier blog post) is bringing in £1357 before deductions, so take home pay is on average around £1,100 on a good month.  There simply is not enough money to cover outgoings, food and travel costs and so people are living on credit and in a desperate cycle to break free from the poverty.

It is clear that many are shouting out about this issue, but it is not being properly addressed, and certainly not quick enough, this needs to change and it needs to change very very quickly.  That brings me to talk about why people are choosing the ‘option’ of entrepreneurism, why we have so many new small businesses. I use the word ‘option’ very loosely, as actually I believe this to be a desperate measure to escape the trap that is our current work culture.  Now I have already highlighted my earlier 9-5 blog above, this is not new news – Dolly Parton sang about it in 1980!  Listen to the words!

What we have is a ‘desperate’ situation, now I really do not believe that anybody ‘wants’ to live on benefits.  It is the most degrading, humiliating situation to be in and one aspect of this was beautifully depicted in the recent movie I Daniel Blake.  I could personally relate to some of the scenes in this movie.  As a proud working woman who barely took a day off in 20 years, to then suddenly go from being a home-owner career girl to a single mum in receipt of benefits was such a shock.  I had no idea what tax credits were in my early 30’s, and the brief six months I turned to Income Support following the end of my maternity leave were soul destroying.  Now whilst I was very grateful that my daughter wasn’t torn from my arms as it was for my grandparents generation, to be sanctioned for borrowing £20 from my mum and not declaring it and having my bank statements scrutinised like some sort or criminal is something I will never forget.  To lose the freedom of your own income and to have people look at you like you are sponging scum despite 20 years contributions is something I do not believe anybody would choose.  My point?

Well my point is that it does not pay to work when wages are as low as benefits.  Living on benefits is seriously tight, it is living in poverty and there is no money for luxuries, and so it ‘does’ pay to work, for the sense of wellbeing it gives you and the opportunity to increase that income, but the income is rarely increased, only freedom is lost, childcare costs are added from 3pm if you are a parent and transport costs and of course the holiday period.  So many people are turning to being self-employed and turning into entrepreneurs because it is a desperate measure.  A desperate measure to escape the 9-5 and to have the chance to earn more than £10 an hour.  (which is still too low!).  All of these problems are man-made (or as somebody pointed out to me the other day ‘person-made – sorry – to PC for me, again we are allowing ourselves to be sheep trained).  We are human beings and we need to stop greed at the top.  We need fair pay, and fair hours.  With better pay, working in school hours can be a ‘choice’ living without luxuries can be a ‘choice’, a choice to pick up your children and give-up take-outs.

I appreciate that certain professions offer a good wage, and there are brilliant opportunities to re-train to work in a higher paid job, and there will always be a difference in income, but the difference is too grand.  The bottom line should not be poverty.  Top 10% and bottom 10% is not a fair way to divide the hard workers in this country.  I still hear people complain that ‘anybody’ can go to university now, these people are oblivious to their own privileges.  Everybody deserves the chance to be the very best they can be.

Wellbeing will seriously increase when these changes are made.  NHS costs will decrease, road accidents will decrease, ill health will decrease, crime will reduce (yes, much crime is fuelled by anger and need for money) .  Benefit claimants will decrease.  If you cannot see that I urge you to dig deep.  I have recently discovered the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – this tag links to an article entitled ‘Almost a quarter of people in Wales are trapped in poverty’.  When I see the articles and hard work of the JRF, and Shelter, and such charities I wonder, why isn’t anything changing? It is so obvious.  Pay is too low.  Pay is too low.  Come-on Government, look, the pay is too low.  You have been chosen to govern the country to look after society, and look what is happening under your power, on your watch.   You can change this.  Not in 20 years, not in 10.  Right now.  Don’t worry about ‘where the money will come from’ worry about where money will be saved.  For a start people will not need to top up their wages with HB or TC,  NHS will save money on drugs (a much bigger outlay than wages), and people will want to work if they can pick up their kids and be paid a wage in line with inflation.

I have another beef.  the lottery, I have mentioned it before.  If you think that people are gambling responsibly you are deluded.  Most people are gambling out of sheer desperation to escape poverty.  The government are getting greedy.  People are being tricked into funding lottery funded projects because they are desperate to win some money.  Now I know that the lottery supports some really good causes, but you ask people if they would donate to these causes if there wasn’t a chance to win, probably not – not because they are selfish, or don’t care, but because they are living in poverty and cannot afford to support other causes.  It is all too greedy.  When it was £1 a week that was a reasonable amount for people to gamble, that was ‘responsible’, but now it is most nights, £2.50 per go sometimes, people have the same numbers they are afraid of missing and consequently are paying at least £50 per month – that they cannot afford out of their income, because they are desperate.  You have allowed this to happen Gov.  not feeling very proud right now.

I conclude.  People are not really lazy, they want to work, working can be fun, being around people is healthy, having a steady wage is lovely, but entrepreneurism seems to be the only hope at the moment to escape poverty and achieve work-life balance, but hope is what it is, again the stats speak for themselves that this is not an easy option, it is a desperate option, because the wages are not properly governed.

As a country we have a collective responsibility to make some significant changes, and this must be addressed by our government, who we trust and nominate to take care of our wellbeing as a society.  Workers will not challenge the wage offered to them, how can they? They will fear losing the job altogether, and where we accept this income we make a rod for our own backs, but what choice do we have when we are powerless to do anything about it?  We need to make the change happen higher up the ladder, we need protection, help, support, we need to be looked after as members of society, we are happy to work, but unless the house prices are going to decrease 400% and bills equally, the wage needs to inflate, and it’s the job of the country’s leaders to make that happen.

I would like to make a few additional points:

Rich House Poor House is a lovely documentary that sensitively highlights the wage divide.  Please watch it whatever your status.

Can’t pay we’ll take it away – I’m not offering a link this one.  It disgusts me how we are filming people at their lowest, these people are in genuine despair and it is being used as entertainment.  We are behaving like animals not helping them.  If you think they choose not to pay you are ignorant, for that you can be forgiven, but you need to understand the reality by watching Rich House Poor House.

If you are looking at setting up a business but are in poverty charities such as Fredericks Foundation may be able to help you.

It is not okay to spend a lifetime renting.  A mortgage would only last 20-40 years.  When you rent you never get that light at the end of the tunnel and never lose that overhead.   See my earlier rental blog here

Empty properties need filling.  Flats should be a lifestyle choice or stop gap in your twenties whilst having enough disposable income to save.

I firmly believe that there would be a lot less hatred for immigration if people weren’t living in poverty and feeling threatened and equally obesity would decline if people had the finances and the time to eat properly and be more active.

There are so many fundamental errors with our way of thinking, our system, we cannot rely on the lottery to bail us out, we have a collective responsibility to make things change, if you are struggling you need to shout louder, and if you are a wealthy employer you need to ask if a portion of your wealth is blood money?  And if you are justifying it because you are a sheep?

Sharing with love not hate, as always.

I apologise for typos, it’s late and I’m not reading this long blog before I post it! Feel free to point out spelling & grammar and I’ll tweak later!   Ta.

Pay Slip 1991