49% of single parents in relative poverty before Covid

A new report says nearly half of single parent families were living in relative poverty before Covid.

Child hold woman's hand at a table. She has her head in her hands and there is an open purse on the table with just a few pence spilling out of it.

 

Nearly half of single parent families were living in relative poverty In the year before the pandemic, double the rate among children living in two-parent families, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Relative poverty is defined as having an income of less than 60% of median incomes adjusted for household size. It says that, following the withdrawal of support over the pandemic, these poverty rates “have likely rebounded”.

Its study, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, show relative poverty for children of lone parents rose by 9% between 2013–14 and 2019–20, from 40% to 49%. In contrast, relative poverty for children in two-parent families rose by only 2%over the same period. In 2019–20, 1.5 million children of lone parents were in relative income poverty. Children of lone parents accounted for around a fifth of all children (22%), but around a third of all children in relative poverty (36%).

The report also notes that there was no progress in reducing absolute poverty for children of lone parents in the years leading up to the pandemic. This is defined as children in households with incomes below a fixed poverty threshold, adjusted for inflation and household size, equivalent to around £14,400 per year for a lone parent with two young children in 2020–21. 40% of children in lone-parent families were in absolute poverty in 2019–20, essentially unchanged from 41% in 2013–14

The IFS says the flatlining of absolute poverty and rise in relative poverty for children of lone parents reflect reductions in the real value of state benefits in the years from 2011 to 2019 given lone parents on low incomes are particularly reliant on income from benefits. The report says these cuts to benefits have offset rises in employment incomes in recent years, which have been large for lone parents. The fraction of children living in a lone-parent family where their parent was working rose from 50% in 2007–08 to 54% in 2013–14 and reached 62% in 2019–20.

While it says recent announcements of cost of living funding should bring relative poverty rates down, it estimates that some low-income families will benefit more than others from the government support for energy costs. In particular, the government’s decision to provide a flat rate of support to households on means-tested benefits, rather than uprating benefits in line with current inflation, means that the support provided is less generous (in percentage terms) for families currently receiving high levels of benefits, says the report.

Jonathan Cribb, Associate Director at IFS and an author of the report, said: “Rises in employment pushed up incomes of lone-parent families in the years running up to the pandemic, but cuts to state benefits and tax credits reduced their incomes. The combined effect was that there was no progress in reducing absolute poverty in lone-parent families between 2010 and 2019, and their incomes fell further behind those on average incomes.”



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