Why single parents need more support

Single parents are on the frontline when it comes to the rising cost of living and they need targeted support.

Woman leans on a table looking depressed


With many people’s eyes fixed firmly on cost of living problems, single parents will be on the frontline. Even before April, single parents have been in dire straits. The charity Gingerbread recently revealed that 95% of single parents have been worried about the rising cost of essentials over the last 12 months, compared with 57% of UK adults, with single parents being twice as likely to have felt depressed because of money worries than UK adults.

Over half of single parent households – 90% of which are headed by women – have seen their financial situation worsen over the past 12 months and 42% expect things to get even worse over the coming year, with a huge 95% of single parents worried about further cost of living increases expected in April. The Chancellor’s statement last week is unlikely to have eased that worry, given that much of it was not targeted at the poorest who will not benefit from the increase in the National Insurance contributions threshold.

Research from NOW:Pensions and the Pensions Policy Institute, for instance, shows more than half of single mothers [58%] do not qualify for auto enrolment pensions because they earn below the qualification threshold for auto-enrollment. This was up from 45% in 2020, showing how Covid has affected earnings. The study also found that the average pension wealth for single mums has fallen by 40 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Yet another study this week – by HR software experts CIPHR – suggested that the gender pay gap may widen due to women being less likely to get inflation-level or above inflation pay rises, meaning they are more likely to be worse off in the next months or years.

We know that many single parents are visiting food banks, having to choose between heating and eating and that some cannot afford to heat any of the donated food they are given.

The government’s response to poverty seems to be that people can work their way out of it, but without the childcare infrastructure it is very difficult to do more hours. The recent Coram Family and Childcare report shows the availability of full-time places is one of the areas where provision has decreased significantly during the pandemic.

Gingerbread is calling for an increase in the basic rate of Universal Credit of 6% rather than the 3% that has been offered; targeted support for low-income families to help with energy costs; and a longer-term review of the minimum income needed to meet the cost of living.

The alternative is leaving a large and increasing group of families consigned to absolute poverty, storing up all sorts of longer-term problems for the future.

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