We look at how you can make sure you are receiving the benefits you are entitled to, and make your life as a working mum that bit easier.
Being a working mum is one of the most difficult jobs around because it’s not just one job. It demands a tricky balance between the demands of home life and work, which can be a struggle emotionally as well as financially. The Office for National Statistics stated that in the second quarter of 2008, 68% of working-age women with dependent children were in employment at the time – and the government accordingly has put systems in place in order to cater for the majority of these working mums. The availability of these credits and benefits does vary depending on your income and your personal situation but essentially their aim is to support working mothers, and all parents in employment. Exploring all the benefits that you are entitled to, and ensuring that your work-home balance performs as efficiently as it can, will make life as a working mum work for you. Failing to achieve that balance could impact negatively upon both work and home, giving rise to the feeling that you are letting down both your loved ones and your colleagues – and boss.
Credits and benefits
You may be eligible for Working Tax Credit (WTC) if you are a mum who is on a low income. The amount you receive is based upon your circumstances – typically your income – and includes a childcare element, which can be used to counterbalance the costs of registered childcare. The amount you receive toward childcare will depend upon your income but can be worth up to £175 per week for one child and £300 for two or more children. However, recent Tax Credits cuts have had a dramatic effect on working mums, with many having to leave employment or reduce their hours in order to look after their children. The changes that the government implemented in April 2011 involved reducing the percentage of childcare costs that parents are able to claim through the WTC from 80% to 70%. They have also stipulated that couples with children must work a minimum of 24 hours between them, with one working for at least 16 hours a week in order to qualify for the WTC.
Another source of payment that is available to working mums is Child Tax Credit (CTC) that is designed for those bringing up children, and similarly to the childcare aspect of the WTC, is paid directly to the main carer – often the mother. Again, the amount you are entitled to depends upon your household income but you should be entitled to credit as long as your household income is not above approximately £58,000 a year if your children are over one year old or around £66,000 a year if you have a baby under the age of one. As well as the CTC, Child Benefit is on offer for working mums, as it is for all parents, and is available to you if your child is under the age of 16. If they are over 16 but under 20 and still in education or training then they should still qualify for Child Benefit. This benefit is tax-free and available to every parent, whether employed or unemployed, as long as their children meet the requirements. In April 2011, Child Benefit was frozen for three years at £20.30 per week for your first child and then £13.40 for each subsequent child (if you have a child who is disabled then you may be eligible for extra money included in your benefits). If you are not receiving Child Benefit already, then to apply for it you need to contact the Child Benefit Office, Jobcentre Plus office or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to get and complete a CH2 form.
Although these credits prove beneficial to many families, the cuts to Working and Child Tax Credits in April 2011 by the government have had and continue to have a dramatic effect on many working mothers in the UK. Andrea Mitchell, a mother of a three year-old daughter and who works in the publishing industry, comments: “As an honest working mum who was on the breadline before the cut came through, it was a struggle to cope financially. Since the cuts have happened I have had to cut my daughter’s nursery hours to cope with the loss in credits as now I am having to pay out an extra £200.” Andrea, like many other working mums, has expressed a concern that the cuts in Tax Credits will result in a financial burden for the government, with mothers more inclined to stay at home. Although it is possible to appeal alterations made to your Tax Credits, it can be a difficult process; many mothers are being forced to adapt to these changes in their income.
Income Support is designed for single parents, or in this case single mums, who are unable to work full-time. You are eligible to receive Income Support if you are either unemployed or work part-time (less than 16 hours a week) due to the responsibility of looking after your child or children. You do have to be between the ages of 16 and 59 but are able to receive support if you are a single parent student or are disabled. The amount that you are eligible to receive varies depending on individual circumstances, which can include your savings (which must be less than £16,000 to qualify), your age, the age and number of your children and your income.
However, changes have been made by the government that state that Income Support is not available for lone parents whose children are over the age of 12 at the end of 2008; these people instead will qualify for JobSeeker’s Allowance. This measure and other similar further implementations have been introduced to encourage single parents to seek employment, even if it is part-time. If you are entitled to Income Support then you will also be eligible for a number of other entitlements such as Housing Benefits, free prescriptions, school meals and dental care. These are designed by the government to help you deal with the cost of bringing up children. For example, the New Deal for Lone Parents (NDLP) helps single parents to get back into work by offering money towards childcare whilst you are seeking or have just started work as well as offering payment to help with travel or training programmes associated with gaining a job.
Balancing your time
Long periods of holiday for children – especially the summer holiday – can prove a very difficult time for working mums; at this time, more than ever, your children’s demand on your time can have a noticeable effect on your work-life balance. Childcare is the option that many mothers choose to opt for, but with the cost of childcare often approaching and in some cases even outweighing the salary they are receiving, this may not be a viable option and certainly can create extra financial pressure. Daycare Trust – the national childcare charity – put the average cost of childcare in Britain for the summer of 2010 at £558 per child. For this reason, more and more workers are requesting their employers to let them work from home in order to fit in with the care of their children. This is becoming a more feasible option due to the developments in remote access and web conferencing technology which allows you to interact with your office in online meetings for example. Operating from home through telecommuting can provide you with greater flexibility in terms of your hours and thus the time you spend with your children.
Many employees however, struggle to achieve such choice, with 16% of parents surveyed in July 2011 by Turn2us (a charitable service which enables people to access the benefits available to them) having experienced difficulty with unsympathetic bosses when requesting leave during the summer period. If you feel you need more flexibility from your job, then it may be worthwhile proposing working from home to your employer in advance of the summer holidays in order to prove how successfully the system can work. Arrange a meeting with them to discuss creating a work arrangement, ensuring that you have your suggestions in writing – there is a government form that is available on the Directgov website (www.direct.gov.uk) which can used to make your request.
As a working mum planning and organising is high priority, as in the long run it will save you time and help you to balance work and your children effectively. For example, if you have a partner, then try to arrange a rota for housework and food shopping which can be done in evenings and weekends. Consistency will not only benefit your own experience of family life but will settle your child into a schedule. Another important element to plan is time to yourself, to have a break from work and your children – do not feel guilty about this: if you do not concentrate on yourself then you’ll find it difficult to concentrate on others. Time with your partner is also important: consider asking a relative or a nanny to look after your child or children once every couple of weeks. It can be easy to neglect your relationship with the stresses and strains of work and motherhood. Furthermore, do not feel guilty about working and taking time away from your children: working to support your family is something to be proud of. Indeed, according to a project carried out by the department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL), girls seemed to benefit from living in a household in which their mum worked, with those whose who worked part-time or full-time causing no damaging effect on their young children. If you feel you are really struggling to achieve the right balance between work and home, then consider cutting down your hours or making a career change that will offer more flexibility – but always remember your reasoning for working and appreciate the benefits that being a working mum brings to the family home.
Many mothers find that working for an employer does not offer enough flexibility for their family life and opt to set up their own business. Recently, there has been a sharp increase in mum-turned-entrepreneurs or ‘Kitchen Table Tycoons’ as they have been termed; who have decided that being their own boss is their best option. Approximately 74% of female entrepreneurs were in employment prior to establishing their own company according to a study carried out by Yellow Pages – demonstrating the common transition from working to business mums. The types of businesses that mums are seen to set up are various, but the most popular appear to be childcare services, marketing and advertising and wedding organising. Although many mums set up businesses in the hope of spending more time with their families, the report showed that 27% of those surveyed found it difficult to have quality time with their partner, with the inability to get housework done and have personal time also expressed as downsides to creating your own business. Being self-employed can often have as many difficulties as being employed by someone else. Tim Leunig, whose Economic History department at the London School of Economics carried out the research, states: “My advice to potential business mums thinking of starting up on their own would be to investigate the market thoroughly to see where the opportunities are and seek advice before jumping in headfirst.”
There are many challenges facing mothers who choose to work and wcare for their children. However, you need not feel pressured as a working mum, but rather take advantage of your situation as one of variety. You get to thrive in a workplace environment, earning credit and financial gain for your hard work and you get to spend dedicated time with your children when you are not working. Never see it as a negative position but rather focus on the benefits that having a job has for your family, both in a monetary sense and the example it sets for your child or children. The changes that the government have made to Tax Credits will have a lasting impact on working mothers within the UK so it seems that for the foreseeable future, working mums will have to strive even harder to achieve that all-important balance between employment and family life, and take all possible advice to ensure they have access to all available support.
Editor’s career advice
Balancing work and home is hard enough – but keeping that balance when children come into the picture is a whole new story (as I can confirm, as a working dad!). Even getting back into the swing of things following maternity leave can be a real struggle, let alone maintaining an even keel professionally through all the many challenges of bringing kids up over the years: coping with a child’s illness, or a whole host of other problems is hardly made easier when you have deadlines to meet and other work-related issues to resolve. It’s important to recognise that legislation exists to help you through what can be an immensely trying period, and that benefits – which for many people are a dirty word – are there to give you a helping hand, so don’t hesitate to take it. Know what you’re entitled to and, if you need it, take it: nobody can accuse a working mum of shirking just because she accepts what the welfare state has to offer! However, keeping on top of what benefits and rights a working mum has can be a challenge in itself, so as our article says it’s definitely sensible to get clarification from the authorities as to exactly what benefits you’re entitled to, and how to claim them.