Is enough being done to support single mothers in business? The stories that need to be heard

Single mother working on a laptop with a baby on her lap

How would you like a job working 119 to 126 hours per week? With a salary of £2.30 per hour (OTE £30K +) and no holiday pay, annual leave, sick pay or employee perks? Have we got your attention yet? Good. Listen up.

With the theme of International Women’s Day 2021 being #ChooseToChallenge, this is the perfect chance to be more than just a trending hashtag and a CSR pat on the back. This is an opportunity to stand up and be heard. One in four households with dependents are single households, so let’s focus on a group of the most inspiring women you can think of…single mothers.

Julie Hawkins went from a married, “20-year career girl” who owned her own home to a single mum practically overnight. When her employer refused to offer her flexible working or reduced hours, it became clear that she had to choose between her child and her career. She chose her child and lost her home because of it.

The Single Mums Business Network

Julie Hawkins, founder of The Single Mums Business Network

Julie Hawkins, founder of The Single Mums Business Network

Julie went on to create her own business, KIH Products, in 2013, setting it up “without a single penny disposable income.” Armed with her own experiences and a vision to help other women facing similar challenges, Julie set up the Single Mums Business Network in 2019.

“Whilst in an ideal world, we would live in two-parent families, whereby one parent’s income is sufficient to buy a home and cover the cost of living, and the other parent’s time is free to cover childcare, school holidays, cleaning and cooking, this just isn’t the reality for one in four families in the UK,” Julie explains.

“Single mothers (90% of single parents /primary carers are women) still face a lot of blame for this status, and are often misconceived as having a lazy work ethic or a ‘Benefit’ lifestyle choice, but the reality is many are divorced or widowed women with strong career backgrounds”

The vision of the Single Mums Business Network (SMBN) is one to be admired. This network allows for knowledge-sharing and aims to gain its members’ businesses crucial exposure.

“The SMBN is not a charity or CIC, it is a business, and all members pay their way,” says Julie. “This is very important for the psychology and pride of always feeling like they are asking for charity, when they are simply trying to all that they can to help themselves.”

“These women have embarked on an entrepreneurial journey, where they can fully utilise their skillset, enhance their chances of better pay (as promotion is rarely an opportunity for primary carers), and work hard towards returning to being financially independent, whilst enabling them to take care of their children outside of public education or childcare.”

The stark reality

Julie is quick to point out why days like International Women’s Day are important for her and her network: “#IWD is not about misandry, although it may sometimes feel like that, it is just about having an opportunity to shine a spotlight on barriers that men may not realise many women face. There are 1.8 million single parents in the UK, 90% of which are women, and they are not looking for charity or free money, they are just looking for ways to make work work, whilst still enabling them to be there when needed as primary carers.”

While SMBN aims to shine a spotlight on these inspiring female entrepreneurs, Julie acknowledges there’s still a considerable about of work to do to spread the word.

“I haven’t got to all of these entrepreneurs yet. Last week a single mother committed suicide leaving her four-year-old behind because she just couldn’t see a way out and she didn’t have the right information or support. I am on an urgent mission to make sure nobody else feels that desperate – this is the fourth single mother suicide in the UK ‘that I know about’ in the last two years.”

The stories of the Single Mums Business Network

Sherisha Quintyne-Richards, founder of Worcestershire Solo Warriors

Sherisha Quintyne-Richards, founder of Worcestershire Solo WarriorsI am the founder of a single parent support group in Worcestershire. I set the group in October 2019. Since this time, I have been trying to apply for funding for me to support local single parents. This has been met with many obstacles. To apply for a grant, I need a bank account in the group name. I started applying in February 2020 just before the pandemic and we were turned down for the business bank account (despite being preliminary awarded £10K) after an adverse credit check from one team member.

I could not then proceed with the grant. It feels very unfair that I cannot obtain a business bank account at present to selflessly help other single parents. The group is a lifeline for many, and I love to hear about their journeys. One member fled a domestic violent relationship, and they were able to reach out using our social media channels.

Jo Eccersley, founder of Indigo Jo Fine Jewellery

Jo Eccersley, founder of Indigo Jo JewelleryI’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades – teacher, salesperson, artist, livery yard manager, franchisee and now a SEN teaching assistant and business owner, as well as a part-time university student and a fundraiser. I left an abusive marriage with very little self-esteem. I had always had a desire and a drive to be my own boss, and while I love my current job in school, ultimately – I need and want to earn more. Both to provide for myself and for my daughter.

I have launched a jewellery business and it’s been a long time in the planning. I have acquired a vast range of skills and personal attributes over the years and this means I will get the success I so long desire and deserve. I joined the SMBN as I recognise there are so many women out there in the same boat, we know and understand each other’s struggles and ultimately give each other support. In light of the past twelve months, this is as important as ever, we all give what we can to the network and things are changing and we are growing, bring on the future.

Claire Harris, founder of Pets 2 Places

Claire Harris, founder of Pets 2 PlacesPets 2 Places began in 2014, 2 years after Claire was widowed and faced the challenges of not only being the breadwinner but also the only parent to 3 children. With no family close by to support the journey. It wasn’t easy juggling being a mum with working and learning all the different aspects of running a business. It’s been great being a part of the SMBN, because everyone is in the same boat and understands the struggles, the tiredness.

I’ve created a fantastic business model, which I would love to see other women joining my team. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am and am now the country’s leading expert on pet transport. The franchise model I have created is for anyone who loves animals looking to start their own business.

Want to find out more about The Single Mums Business Network?

Go to the SMBN website to find out more information about The Single Mums Business Network.