Life as a single parent at the end of the COVID-19 safety nets – the untold human story

Posted 2 September 2021

Since the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, single parents have borne the brunt of the economic and social fallout. Prior to the pandemic, single parents were already more likely to live in poverty than coupled parents, with the associated troubles of financial difficulties – this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. However, some of these financial troubles have been at least somewhat alleviated by the various safety nets that have been put in place by the government – including the £20 universal credit (UC) uplift, furlough payments, SEISS payments and others. However, these safety nets are now to be abruptly taken away with little coming in to replace them and alleviate the dire economic situation befalling single parents. 

The end of COVID-19 safety nets  

For context, single parents have written in to Gingerbread to describe the type of support that the £20 UC uplift has given them and what it will mean when this support is taken away. They have told us:

‘This extra money equates to a 2 week food shop for me and my son’, ‘The impact of losing £20 a week is whether we eat for that week or not’


‘The cut to the £20 per week UC uplift will mean that we are significantly worse off. Food prices have rocketed in the past 18 months’.

This is the real human impact of losing these safety nets, with many more single parents telling us of the mental, financial and emotional toll that these cuts will place on them and their children. 

In plainer terms, the end of the uplift will withdraw a safety net worth over £1billion to 1.1 million single parent families over the course of the coming 12 months. This is on top of single parents losing other safety nets – including furlough and the test and trace grant. These cuts are taking place in the context of soaring energy prices and jobs, particularly in the part-time market in which single parents are over-represented, dropping out of the labour market. The government’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ will also not make up for these drastic losses as single parents continue to struggle because of poor investment in childcare making it unaffordable, having no legal right to work flexibly and poor employment support.  

Single parents and the real-world impact 

As single parents have reported to us,

‘It has been such an incredibly stressful time as a single parent to deal with this especially trying to get back to work where childcare is so ridiculously expensive’.

Indeed, these cuts will not simply impact single parents but will have long-lasting negative effects on their children. Until the Government addresses these barriers to jobs for single parents, they and their children need the vital help of the UC uplift and other financial support measures to be able to afford the bare necessities such as food, gas and electricity.  

The end of furlough puts the livelihoods of single parents in jeopardy with single parents having been more likely to be furloughed (30%) than coupled parents (21%). Many single parents feel, perhaps justifiably, that being furloughed increases the likelihood of job loss. This is because single parents are more likely to be found in shut-down sectors that will not have the same job availability that existed prior to the pandemic. As aforementioned, the Plan for Jobs offers little hope to the half of single parents(50.4%) who need to work part-time (ONS 2019) – due to caring responsibilities with only 8 per cent of jobs now advertised as part-time and rates of part time work falling to their lowest levels since 2010. 

For the third of single parents stuck on low pay, the end of the Track and Trace Self-Isolating Grant means those who receive a positive test will have to choose between self-isolating or being able to put food on the table. We are also concerned that the grant will no longer be open to parents who need to be home when their children self-isolate. 

As rises in household energy costs loom, a quarter of single parent families (450,000) have report having difficulties making ends meet and the average single parent family debt has risen by £600 per household since the start of the pandemic. The end of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme could also place single parents under further financial strain. 

Single parents have told us of the pressure that these cuts will place on them with one mother telling us,

‘The impact of losing £20 a week is whether we eat for that week or not. I’m looking and applying for jobs with no success I’m on my own with a 14-year-old son and I don’t think I will be able to buy food and pay bills when the money stops so it has to be one or the other.  It’s very daunting’.

With another mother putting it as bluntly as

‘I doubt that I will be able to eat much myself to ensure the kids don’t go without’. 

Financial consequences and beyond – social, mental-health and wellbeing 

Once again, these stories highlight the very real human cost that these cuts will have on single parents and their children, placing them at greater disadvantage than they already find themselves in. These cuts could be reversed at little extra cost and would avoid millions of families being plunged into further financial and social difficulties. It is not just the impact of being unable to put food on the table, it is being unable to attend after school social clubs, have enough money to get childcare to be able to work more hours and have the ability to lead the life they choose. Single parents are also often affected by in-work poverty, meaning that the current jobs being offered simply do not offer a ‘way out of poverty’.  

Much has been made of the purely financial impacts of the removal of these safety nets. However, the wider consequences for single parents and their children are often overlooked by those making the decisions. A single parent suffering from major anxiety and depression told us that

‘having read the message from UC in my account this morning stating the last £80 I will receive will be in September has set my anxiety off as I have no idea how I am going to survive and support my family’.  

These cuts are placing single parents in positions of increasing precarity, with little to no clarity about how they are supposed to make up for the economic shortfall which is being placed on their doorsteps. With money already being paid in arrears for universal credit and childcare being unaffordable these additional cuts will place undue strain on many families who already do not have the means to cope. 


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