For working single parents like me, Covid is a nightmare that never ends | Tayyaba Siddiqui

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The Guardian

I am a single parent working in the NHS as a therapy assistant. I help patients get back on their feet and provide rehabilitation support to get them home. During the pandemic they’ve needed me more than ever because they face longer hospital stays, complicated by staff absences and a lack of family visits. I have done my best to offer them extra support during these unprecedented times. It’s paradoxical, then, that there’s no safety net for me.

Covid-19 has been a constant backdrop to my family’s every waking move since the pandemic began. I live alone with my 10-year-old child, who has spent the past two years terrified I will fall ill, leaving him with no one. Sometimes he asks me to stop work and find a job I can do from home. But I cannot. It took me long enough to find this job in the first place.

Now there’s a new surge. For many, it’s old news. Perhaps they’ve already had Covid, or they are reassured by the comparatively low hospitalisation rate. Many, no doubt, have paid sick leave to rely on in hard times, or perhaps a partner who can pick up the childcare if they have to isolate. But for us, it’s the same nightmare it’s always been.

Who will support us if my child gets Covid? There is no childcare for Covid-positive children (nor should there be) and I have no family and friends who can step in. If my child gets Covid I will stay home, on unpaid leave, to look after him. What will happen if I get Covid? It will be the same story. And no wage means more hardship.

We have been here before. During the peak of the pandemic, our childcare providers said they no longer wanted to look after them because I worked in a hospital. They were fearful I’d bring Covid home and into their business – they needed to keep working just as much as I did. I had to use all my annual leave to look after my child, along with unpaid sick leave, which pushed us only deeper into poverty. I don’t want to go back there. But I’m scared I will have no choice.

My job started during the pandemic, so I’ve only known work in a time of Covid. It’s a constant challenge, and I am always fearful of what will happen if we catch it. The cost of living crisis is heightening my fears. As prices rise but not my wages, the sums simply do not add up. When I first entered work I thought we would manage financially, and be able to afford a decent life at last. How wrong I was. Now I work, but am still unable to make my income stretch to the end of the month. I can’t imagine how much worse things would get if I had to manage without pay, even for only a short time.

The school holidays are fast approaching. It should be a time to think about days out and simple treats. But it is not. My child has never had a holiday – it is a word that is not even in our vocabulary. Both of us will just be counting the days until school starts again. This is no way for either of us to live. I live in constant worry.

Single parents are continuing to weather the realities of the pandemic alone. Just because the virus is less deadly doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous for people such as me, hanging on by a thread. Boris Johnson’s government has imploded, leaving us without leadership when it’s never been more needed. Single parents have always needed more support to acknowledge the challenges and costs of caring for children on their own. That is true now more than ever.

As I look at the boom in Covid numbers, and see the prices in the shops continuing to rise, it feels like there are several storms on their way to hit us. Despite all that my child and I have been through, I have never given up on life or stopped hoping for a better future for us. But, now, for the first time, I am unable to think clearly or find a way forward. The storm is going to hit us soon. Must we weather it alone?

  • Tayyaba Siddiqui is a participant in Changing Realities, an Abrdn Financial Fairness Trust-funded project documenting and seeking to improve life on a low income during the cost of living crisis. She was also involved in its predecessor, Covid Realities

July 13, 2022 at 10:06PM Tayyaba Siddiqui

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