Helpline to support single parents in the Western Isles

Every household in the country is facing added pressures due to the coronavirus. However, it would be fair to say that single parents are facing more than most.

Monday, 6th April 2020, 8:44 pm
Help is on hand...for single parents who are worried about the impact of coronavirus thanks to One Parent Families Scotland fighting their corner.

With schools across the country closed indefinitely, they are juggling multiple roles at home and childcare issues, as well as the fear of contracting the illness.

While many employers have been supportive, others have been intransigent – insisting single parents carry on regardless.

Due to the buck stopping with them, both in terms of finances and childcare, many have done just that.

Satwat Rehman, director of OPFS, said: "We don’t want single parents facing a cliff edge when these measures are taken away."

However, One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS), a charity which supports single parents, has been inundated with calls from mums and dads in desperate need of help.

Its 75-strong team is working hard to ensure that single parents’ voices are heard, as well as being on call to provide advice, information and practical and emotional support.

Scotland has 135,000 single parent families with dependents and 253 live in the Western Isles Council area.

It is feared these families will be hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic – both in the short and long term.

The Government has pledged to support the most vulnerable households, but there are issues that need to be addressed immediately.

Satwat Rehman, director of OPFS, explained: “One in four families in Scotland are led by single parents who, even before the lockdown, were facing austerity and increased poverty levels.

“We need to make sure the current situation does not exacerbate that further.

“Some 70 per cent of single parents work in what, up until now, some deemed as unskilled and low value employment.

“However, they are now essential workers.

“While there are fantastic examples of employers who have been really supportive, some parents have been told to come into work or resign.

“If you have no-one else to look after your children and you’re the only one bringing money into the house, what are you supposed to do?

“One mum who works in a call centre is being expected to work longer hours than before, even though she’s working at home and trying to look after her wee one.

“There has to be greater recognition of how difficult it is for single parents to juggle everything.

“Emergency measures have been introduced to help but there are difficulties getting through to the tax credit and universal credit helplines.

“We also don’t want single parents facing a cliff edge when those measures are taken away.

“Many are concerned already about what’s going to happen when it’s all over.”

Until the lockdown is over, OPFS will be a phone call away to help single parents across the country.

In addition to its national helpline, the charity has five local service teams – in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Lanarkshire and Dundee.

Staff who usually support families on a one-to-one basis there will continue to help them, via text, email and Skype, but are also taking helpline calls – from their new home offices.

And a database of all the services available in each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas is being created so staff have local information at their fingertips.

But Satwat is also calling on local authorities to consider the immediate needs of single parents.

She added: “OPFS is being inundated with queries from single parents. We need to ensure local authorities are considering their needs.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) has put a range of measures in place to help support families throughout the Western Isles.

The Comhairle has taken steps to continue free school meals and education maintenance allowances.

Bernard Chisholm, education director, said: “We wanted to make sure that all the young people who qualify for EMA continue to receive support.

“We hope this action will provide some additional financial support in what is a difficult time for families.”

For each qualifying student, the Comhairle has made an advance payment of £30 per week up until June 5.

It will be reviewed on June 8 and another advance payment will be issued to those eligible until the end of term on June 26.

Bernard added: “All families with pupils in nursery and from P1 to S6 whose children qualify for free school meals will be paid £154 per child for the period between now and June 30.

“Families with pupils in P1 to P3 who receive assistance with school clothing will automatically qualify for this free school meal payment.”

For more information, visit www.cne-siar.gov.uk.

Three-fold increase in demand

One Parent Families Scotland celebrated its 75th annniversary in 2019. It was formed in 1944 to help single parents after World War Two. But the challenges it faced then, poverty and stigma, sadly have changed little in that time.

In the last three weekes, the charity has witnessed a three-fold increase in demand on its phoneline and webchat with urgent queries related to the coronavirus pandemic.

There has also been a 50 per cent increase in its website traffic in the last month, with ‘activities for kids when social distancing’ being one of the most viewed pages.

Luckily, the charity’s website was revamped just a matter of weeks ago and is now better designed to meet demand.

Satwat explained: “In our Talk to Us section, we introduced an Ask a Question function and it couldn’t have been done at a better time.

“There’s an increased amount of anxiety among single parents because of the virus and how they can get help, sooner rather than later.

“Questions have ranged from how can I juggle working at home with the children, to rent arrears and not having enough money to buy what’s left in the shops as the cheaper brands have gone fast.

“We’ve created a tool for our staff to list the questions so we can look at patterns and what we can do to help.

“The bottom line is that single parents are under more pressure than ever before.”

OPFS is now creating a guide for parents to find out more about the virus on its website.

Satwat added: “Former board members have offered to do that for us as all our staff are busy answering calls. We hope to have it up and running in the next few days.”

To find out more, visit opfs.org.uk or call the helpline on 0808 801 0323.