A new report from Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies shows how single parents have been hit much harder by Covid than those in couples and calls for more targeted support with childcare and to help them back to work or to retrain.
Lindsay is a single mum with two primary-aged children and works in administration. When the UK went into lockdown, she had to take a temporary reduction in her hours, but her situation remained uncertain in the summer.
Lena has two children in secondary school and works in a catering job in a university. She was furloughed in March. She was still furloughed in the summer and was worried that she might have to work evenings or that she might lose her job. She felt conflicted because she doesn’t want to work evenings, but is worried about money.
Marilyn has one child and worked part-time in administration in a shop. She was furloughed at first, but then told she was being laid off. She has been looking for call centre or customer service work and has applied for over 50 jobs, but it is challenging in the current labour market. She would like to retrain, but can’t afford any paid for courses in the areas she is interested in.
A new report highlights the challenges faced by single parents as a result of Covid. The report by Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies found single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes than other family types and that mothers in coupled households earned almost twice as much per week as single mothers.
It also found that 46% of single parents worked in routine occupations compared to coupled parents (26%) with such roles, particularly in retail and hospitality, having been particularly affected by job losses and hours reductions. They are also twice as likely to have a zero hours contract as other family types. They are also less likely than coupled parents to be able to work from home and more likely to have been furloughed (30% compared to 21% of couple parents). And they were twice as likely to have poor mental health, compared with other family types, immediately before and in the early stages of the Crisis. Overall 51% of single parents reported having depression, bad nerves or anxiety compared with 27% of couple parents.
During the first lockdown when childcare was hugely difficult for many, many spoke of an ‘impossible balancing act’, with constant trade-offs between their work and caring responsibilities. As restrictions eased in July, the report found single parents perceived an uncertain future, with widespread concerns about job security and their ability to secure new work. Ongoing uncertainty around work requirements (including returns to the office and required hours) and childcare availability, both formal and informal, have made planning for the future impossible. Many felt that the unique challenges facing them had not been sufficiently accounted for in policy and guidelines developed in response to the crisis.
The report recommends changes to the furlough scheme so it is not just down to employers and so that single parents can access it, for example, if their child needs to isolate. In the meantime, it says, the Test and Trace Isolation Grant must be made available to parents on low incomes who cannot work when their children are sent home from childcare or school to self-isolate.
It also calls for targeted support to help single parents back to work, including the reintroduction of specialist single parent advisers in Job Centres, and support to retrain, including access to courses with free childcare through Universal Credit.
Laura Dewar from Gingerbread said: “Single parents have been hit hard by the Covid-19 Crisis. Our research has shown that during the previous lockdown single parents faced ‘an impossible balancing act’. As the sole breadwinner and carer single parents having a job is vital for their family income and the financial security of their children. The Government must to do more to support single parent families as we start the second lockdown. Single parents must be better supported to stay in work, find new work or retrain.”