Can holidays really be affordable for single-parent families? Marie explores some of the available options.
With warmer weather finally here, it is natural for thoughts to turn to all-things-summer, and for many families, this involves planning the annual holiday. TV advertisements for holidays are increasingly prevalent as the end of term approaches, and while ‘booking a holiday’ sounds straightforward enough, it is often anything but straightforward for many families.
It is not uncommon for two-parent families to have to tighten their belts or take out credit in order to finance a holiday. For single parents though, the household budget is often even more stretched, with little room for manoeuvre. In a recent online search to find a suitable mini-break, I discovered an alarming scarcity of holiday options that truly deserve the ‘affordable’ label so often used by holiday providers.
Accommodation booked through the most popular providers isn’t based on the number of guests but on the size or quality of the accommodation. Although such packages often involve the complimentary use of on-site pools, parks and entertainment venue, the cost is still prohibitive for families headed by one adult who are expected to pay the same amount as households with two or more adults. For holiday companies, this price-per-unit policy is one which ensures profitability, and with demand so high, they have little incentive to develop other pricing scales.
With this in mind, I made a point of focusing my search on companies that claimed to cater solely for single parent families. Imagining a choice of decent, budget accommodation, I was left disappointed. With an apparent emphasis on outdoor adventure and skiing trips abroad, the price lists reflected lifestyles far removed from mine and indeed, any other single parent I’ve known!
I then searched for holidays subsidised by the charity sector which proved more fruitful (if a lengthier search process). Owned by charities, there are several caravan sites across the UK that offer genuinely affordable holiday accommodation to those on low incomes. Unsurprisingly however, they were fully booked, the charities themselves recommending very early booking for the following year to avoid disappointment.
Pay what you can afford
Just as I was about to give up on the search entirely, I found an example of a pricing policy for self-catering accommodation that is genuinely affordable to all families, regardless of whether they have a full time wage or are receiving means-tested benefits.
Based on a sliding scale, each visiting household pays what they can afford. If they receive means-tested benefits then they are charged no more than the daily rate of that benefit, so even those with little disposable income are able to enjoy the benefits of a getaway to a new environment.
Crucially for single parents, their children are able to experience a holiday and not feel socially excluded.
The simple pleasure of taking a holiday
This probably sounds a little too idealistic and I do recognise the additional, ‘hidden’ costs of holidaying that can impede even the most frugal plans. The cost of return travel, the cost of new clothes/swimwear, as well as the daily food and treats bill, could easily turn even a cheap holiday into something very unaffordable.
And I am not suggesting that holidays are ‘essential’ and recognise that they are not priorities for many families across the UK, but single parent families often do not even have the option to go away with their children. At a time when child poverty rates are rising, we need more than ever to address the ways in which single parents are represented in society. Their children deserve no less than their two-parent counterparts.
While we can’t wave a magic wand to immediately improve their living standards, we should be taking steps to ensure that they are not excluded from the simple pleasure of taking a holiday which would enhance their social and cultural experiences while reducing their sense of social exclusion.