Covid has increased awareness of social inequalities and the additional challenges facing particular groups like single parents. How can we build on this post-Covid?
A report out last week from Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies highlights the particular challenges single parents have faced during Covid. We are only too aware of the childcare challenges many faced during the first lockdown, from frontline workers who had to go to work but had no childcare – for instance, if they had to do shifts outside normal hours or if nursery/childminder places were not available.
Since then we have all been on a bit of a childcare rollercoaster, with schools and childcare opening and closing temporarily, wraparound care not being available for many and a second – but different – lockdown. That’s not to mention parents with kids with special needs or underlying health issues who have faced another level of issues.
Now single parents can join up with another household to get help with childcare and form a childcare support bubble where established informal childcare, such as a friend or family member picking up kids, can continue.
The report lists other ways in which single parents have been particularly affected, including the fact that they tend to be concentrated in low paid jobs which are ‘flexible’, such as care work or other shift or zero hours work. Often they have seen their hours reduced or increased or changed and that plays havoc with childcare.
They are also often in jobs in sectors which have been hardest hit by Covid, including retail and hospitality. The report calls for decisions on who gets to be furloughed due to childcare reasons to be not just down to employers. Other recommendations include giving single parents access to the Test and Trace isolation grant if their kids have to self isolate and targeted support for them to get back to work or to retrain.
One of my friends is a single parent who has been particularly hard hit by Covid. She has three kids, but has not been able to be furloughed because she changed job in early March this year and neither her previous employer or her new employer furloughed her. Instead she was made redundant and has been looking for a job ever since. She has also been shielding as she has an auto-immune condition which makes her especially vulnerable to illness so she needs a very Covid safe job and preferably a job working from home. She has applied for many and had no success so far. She is applying for further benefits and has existed over the last few months on food bank deliveries of fresh food and vegetables, which have been a lifesaver. Friends and family have also chipped in, but it looks as if the vaccination programme won’t be fully rolled out until mid-next year. There’s a long way to go and it seems even longer if you struggle to get through every day.
All those of us who can should rally around. It should be made easier to do so too. There are schemes where furloughed workers can volunteer to help others. More could be done to direct people to these. The NHS Volunteer Responder scheme got some publicity in the early days, but mainly for not providing any work. Perhaps one of the positives that could come out of this terrible time is an appreciation of the particular additional pressures facing some families and the need for efforts to alleviate these to become more embedded in work – and school – life. The alternative is that we retreat into our own worlds after Covid with the recession driving greater and greater inequality and more social division.