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We provide expert advice, practical support and campaign for single parents

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Statistics

Single parents today


Did you know, in the UK:

  • There are around two million single parents – they make up a quarter of families with dependent children   (i)
  • Less than two per cent of single parents are teenagers  (ii)
  • 63.4 per cent of single parents are in work   (iii)
  • The majority of single parents don’t receive child maintenance payments   (iv)
  • 42 per cent of children in single parent families live in relative poverty, around twice the risk of relative poverty faced by children in couple families (23 per cent). (v)

Then and now

  • The proportion of families with children headed by single parents has remained at around 25 per cent for over a decade  (vi)
  • The proportion of single parents who were fathers has stayed at 9 per cent for over ten years   (vii)
  • The proportion of single parents in work increased from 54.1 per cent to 63.4 per cent over the past decade   (viii)
  • Single parents’ risk of poverty has fallen over the past decade, yet those in single parent families are still nearly twice as likely to be in poverty as those in couple parent families.  (ix)

Find out more

Who are single parents?

  • Over 90 per cent of single parents are women; the proportion who are men has remained at around 9 per cent for over a decade    (i)
  • Less than two per cent of single parents are teenagers (aged 16-19 years)   (ii)
  • The average age of a single parent is around 38 years; single mothers tend to be younger than single fathers on average (37 years compared with 44 years old, respectively)  (iii)
  • Around half – 49 per cent – of single parents had their children within marriage; that is, they are married/in a civil partnership, separated, divorced or a surviving partner  (iv)
  • Single fathers are around twice as likely to be widowed than single mothers 21 per cent of single parents are from a Black or minority ethnic background (including those of other White origin, apart from White British), compared with 16 per cent nationally  (v)
  • 27 per cent of single parents have a disability, compared with 21 per cent of couple parents  (vi)

References

i. ONS (2014) Families and households, 2014. Table 1.
ii. Gingerbread analysis of Labour Force Survey (April-June 2014). Aged 16-19 years.
iii. See footnote ii.
iv. See footnote iii.
v.  See footnote iii and ONS (2013) Census 2011, Table DC 1115EW.
ONS (2013) Census 2011, Table DC1201EW.
vi.  Gingerbread analysis of Understanding Society Wave 4 (data largely from 2012-2013).

Single parent families

  • Single parent families make up a quarter of families with dependent children  (i)
  • The proportion of families headed by single parents increased during the 1970s to 1990s, but has remained largely the same since 2001   (ii)
  • 3.1 million children live in single parent families, which is 23 per cent of all children in families; this proportion has stayed the same for over a decade 22 per cent of single parent families have at least one person in the home with a disability, compared with 18 per cent of couple families  (iii)
  • Less than half (38 per cent) of single parents receive child maintenance  (iv)
  • The average weekly maintenance due to be paid via the Child Support Agency is £34 (excluding cases assessed to not be liable to pay maintenance)  (v)
  • Less than ten per cent of single parents have shared care arrangements for their children 65 per cent of resident parents report their child has direct contact with its other parent; 85 per cent of non-resident parents reported some contact  (vi)
  • On average, single parenthood lasts around five years.  (vii)

References

i. ONS (2014) Families and households, 2014. Table 1.
ii. ONS (2009) General household survey, 2007 report.
iii. See reference i.
iv.  ONS (2013) Census 2011, Table 1301EW.
v. Maplethorpe, N. et al (2010) Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and Children Study (FACS). London: DWP.
vi. DWP (2015) Child support agency quarterly summary of statistics for Great Britain: December 2014. 3 per cent of non-resident parents say they share care of the child equally, though this might be an under-estimate (Fehlberg, B. et al (2011) Caring for children after separation: Would legislation for shared parenting time help children? University of Oxford). Previous research found around 9 per cent of single parents reported they shared care equally (or nearly equally; Peacey, V. and Hunt, J. (2009) I’m not saying it was easy: Contact problems in separated families. London: Gingerbread)
vii.  Peacey, V. and Hunt, J. (2009), see reference v.
viii.  Skew, A., et al. (2008) Leaving lone parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the UK.

Work and looking for work

63.4 per cent of single parents were in work in 2014 (i); the single parent employment rate rises to over 70 per cent for those whose youngest child is 12-15 years old (ii)

Work challenges

  • Over two-thirds – 68 per cent – of single parents enter the three lowest paid occupation groups  (iii)
  • Single parents are more likely to be, and get stuck in, low-paid work than other workers  (iv)
  • The lack of jobs that offer flexible working can mean single parents get stuck in part-time work which is often low-paid to balance work and family life  (v)
  • 31 per cent of single mothers would work more hours with good quality and accessible childcare. (vi)

Out of work

  • 42 per cent of single parent families were out of work for childcare reasons in 2012, and 22.8 per cent were unemployed (vii)
  • 24 per cent of single parents claim income support, and around 4 per cent claim jobseeker’s allowance  (viii)
  • The number of single parent jobseeker’s allowance claimants has been falling since February 2013, since when it has nearly halved  (ix)
  • The number of single parent income support claimants has been falling steadily for over a decade, though this accelerated since 2009 after the introduction of Lone Parent Obligations, since when numbers have fallen by a third (x)
  • Single parents on jobseeker’s allowance are more likely to have sanction decisions overturned than other jobseekers. (xi)

References

i.  ONS (2014) Working and workless households, 2014. Table P.
ii. ONS (2014) Male and female lone parent with dependent children compared to all family type analysis cross referencing various variables from LFS/APS datasets 2007 to 2012. Data for Apr-Jun 2012.
iii. Work Foundation analysis of Labour Force Survey data, unpublished. See Newis, P (2012) It’s off to work we go? Moving from income support to jobseeker’s allowance for single parents with a child aged five. London: Gingerbread.
iv.  D’Arcy, C. and Hurrell, A. (2014) Escape plan: Understanding who progresses from low pay and who gets stuck. London: Resolution Foundation.
v.  Graham, H. and McQuaid, R. (2014) Exploring the impacts of the UK government’s welfare reforms on lone parents moving into work: Literature review. Glasgow: Glasgow Centre for Population Health.
vi. Huskinson, T. et al. (2014). Childcare and early years survey of parents 2012/13. London: Department for Education.
vii.  ONS (2014) Families in the labour market, 2014.
viii.  DWP tabulation tool.
ix.  DWP (2015) Lone parents receiving JSA: monthly claimant count.
x.  See reference iv.
xi.   Newis, P. (2014) Single parents and benefit sanctions. London: Gingerbread.

Living standards and poverty

  • Children in single parent families are twice at risk of living in relative poverty than those in couple families (poverty rates are 42 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) (i)
  • 30 per cent of children whose single parent works part-time are in poverty, compared with 22 per cent of those whose single parent works full-time  (ii)
  • Safety net benefits provide less than 60 per cent of the minimum income needed for a decent standard of living for a single parent with one child   (iii)
  • Less than half (38 per cent) of single parents receive child maintenance (iv)
  • The median weekly income for single parent households was £328, compared with £437 for couple households in 2011/12 (v)
  • Single parent households have been the hardest hit household types by tax and benefit reforms since 2010 (vi)
  • 74 per cent of single parent households have financial liabilities; although average debt is smaller than couples with children, single parents are nearly twice as likely to feel this debt is a heavy burden (vii)
  • 14 per cent of single parent households were in fuel poverty in 2011, twice the risk faced by couples with children (viii)
  • 40 per cent of single parents living in social housing in 2011, compared with 13 per cent of couple families. (ix)

References

i. DWP (2014) Households below average income, 1994/95-2012/13. Table 4.14ts.
ii. DWP tabulation tool
iii.  Davis, A. et al (2014) A minimum income standard for the UK in 2014. York: JRF.
iv.  Maplethorpe, N. et al (2010) Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and Children Study (FACS). London: DWP.
v.  Gingerbread analysis of Households Below Average Income survey data (equivalised income before housing costs)
vi.  De Agostini, P., et al (2014) Were we really all in it together? The distributional effects of the UK coalition government’s tax-benefit policy changes. London: Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics; Browne, J. and Elming, W. (2015) The effect of the coalition’s tax and benefit changes on household incomes and work incentives. London: Institute for Fiscal Studies.
vii.  ONS (2013) Welsh households had the least financial debt in 2008/10.
viii.  DECC (2013) Fuel poverty report: annual report on statistics 2013.
ix.  ONS (2013) Census 2011, Table DC4101EW.

The impact of single parenthood

  • Research shows that marital status in itself has little causal impact on child outcomes, with differences more likely to be explained by ‘selection effect’ (ie the difference between the types of people who choose to get married and those that choose to cohabit)   (i)
  • Research on single mothers shows that family structure in itself has little effect on children’s cognitive and emotional outcomes once other factors such as parental education are taken into account  (ii)
  • There is no robust estimation on the cost of ‘relationship breakdown’; the only existing attempts to estimate this are strongly limited – in particular, they do not confine costs to the causal impact of separation and associated costs are largely without an evidence base.  (iii)

References

i. Crawford, C. et al (2013) Cohabitation, marriage, relationship stability and child outcomes: Final report. London: Institute for Fiscal Studies.
ii. Harkness, S. (2014) ‘Time to shift the policy spotlight off single parents’. Society Central.
iii. Rabindrakumar, S. (2015) Challenging the costs of relationship breakdown. London: Gingerbread.



References for Single Parents Today and Then and Now

i. ONS (2014) Families and households, 2014. Table 1.
ii. Gingerbread analysis of Labour Force Survey (April-June 2012). Aged 16-19 years.
iii. ONS (2014) Working and workless households, 2014. Table P.
iv. Gingerbread analysis of Understanding Society Wave 3 data.
v. DWP (2014) Households below average income, 1994/95-2012/13. Table 4.14ts.
vi. See reference i.
vii. See reference i.
viii. See reference iii.
ix.  See reference v.