New Data Shows Cost-of-living Crisis Has Meant Over a Quarter of Single Parent Families Have Already Gone Without Food

Posted 21 March 2022

New data exposes the devasting impact of the cost-of-living crisis on single parent families. Worryingly, it also reveals things are set to get worse for many of the UK’s nearly two million single parent households (90% of which are headed by women) and more children will be at risk of living in poverty.

The research, carried out by Savanta ComRes on behalf of Gingerbread, shows that a shocking 95% of single parents have been worried about the rising cost of essentials over the last 12 months, compared with 57% of UK adults. While single parents are twice as likely to have felt depressed because of money worries than UK adults.

Unfortunately, the data also shows that these worries are justified – over half of single parents (52%) have seen their financial situation worsen over the past 12 months and 42% expect things to get even worse over the coming year. There is little hope for improvement with 95% of single parents worried about further cost of living increases expected to hit in April.

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, the national charity for single parent families, said:

“This research shows there is a stark and marked difference between the experience of single parents and the rest of the UK population. People come to be single parents for lots of reasons – some because of bereavement, some because of domestic abuse or relationship breakdown, others have decided to ‘go it alone’ from the start. Single parents are resourceful and resilient but they have a breaking point and the cost-of-living crisis is pushing many beyond it.

“I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of single parents not eating so they can afford food for their children, families living in single rooms, as that’s all they can afford to heat and parents at breaking point because of the mental load they carry. Children shouldn’t be forced into poverty just because of the shape of their family, parents shouldn’t experience depression because they can’t see a way out of the desperate financial situation they’re in.

“Government really must pay attention to the needs of single parent families and help them to thrive before we see a two-tier society with single parents and their children trapped at the bottom.”

The data clearly shows that single parent families are already going without necessities like food and heating:

  • 29% of single parents have had to cut back or go without food and meals for themselves, compared with 15% of UK adults
  • More than a third of single parents (36%) have had to cut back or go without heating, compared with 1 in 5 (21%) UK adults

Even more worryingly, it’s clear that further price rises in April will cause more hardship for single parents and their children:

  • 95% of single parents are worried about price rises for essentials
  • 62% of single parents either won’t be able to afford, or aren’t confident they will be able to afford, further cost of living hikes due in April
  • More than a third of single parents (36%) said they fear they will struggle to afford food and meals for their children as a result of the cost of living rise due in April
  • Three quarters (76%) of single parents fear they will struggle to afford heating or electricity

Despite the government’s ‘levelling up agenda’, 93% of single parents feel that families like theirs are being left behind. 70% of single parents say the support offered by Government to single parent families to meet the rise in the cost of living is poor and 78% don’t feel confident the Government understands the needs of single parent families.

Single parents have long been disadvantaged and marginalised by unfair, exclusionary and punitive government and economic policies. The benefit cap, a lack of quality flexible work, high childcare costs and a lack of enforcement of child maintenance payments have all meant that single parents struggle to make ends meet. ONS data from 2020 shows that even before the pandemic, single parent households reported the highest levels of poverty and were in a substantially worse financial position than couple families. Since then, things have got much worse and the additional pressures of the cost-of-living crisis will be devastating for some single parent households with many likely to be forced into poverty. The situation will be exacerbated for many single parents because they will be effectively losing money – benefits are only increasing by 3%, which is way below inflation.

Since March 2020 the number of single parents who rely on Universal Credit has increased by 500,000. This means that 75% of all single parents are now entitled to Universal Credit. The welfare system should provide a safety net for single parents and their children Sadly, it simply doesn’t. We need to see:

  • Support for low-income families on Universal Credit by increasing the basic rate of the benefit by 6% in April, rather than the planned 3%
  • Targeted support for low-income families struggling to meet the huge rise in costs of energy
  • Longer-term, a review of minimum income similar to the Minimum Wage Commission, so that single parent families have enough income to meet the cost of living.

When asked about the cost-of-living crisis, single parents told Gingerbread:

“My children don’t ever go without but I will. This week I have only eaten one cheese sandwich in three days…. I don’t eat regularly, I use free sites for clothes/shoes/to replace furniture, don’t use heating in my bedroom, don’t smoke or drink, don’t have a social life but this way, my kids have everything that they need and they don’t go without.”

“I will have to really think about what I buy and prioritise my shopping and other bills to make sure my kids don’t go without their essentials. I can make do without having things for myself, but I do panic about my kids having to go without basic essentials.”

“It feels like the last five years have been about survival and now it’s more of that. Nothing gets better no matter how much I put in.”

“I have a mortgage, I work two jobs already, we live OK currently, but this will be a big blow. Days out and the odd meal out will have to stop, I feel like I’m failing my kids not being able to let them enjoy life.”