Report shows single parents held back in their careers and trapped in low paid roles

Posted 4 November 2019

A new Gingerbread report published today reveals that, despite having the skills and motivation to progress in work, single parents are being unfairly blocked from career progression by factors outside of their control.

With nearly half (49%) of children in single parent households living in poverty, low pay and financial hardship is a critical issue for many single parent families.  In-work progression is a key way for single parents to escape a cycle of low pay and financial insecurity.  However, our report, Held Back: single parents and in-work progression in London, highlights a number of barriers that are preventing single parents from progressing in their jobs.

The five interconnected barriers preventing single parents from progressing in their jobs are:

  • Working part-time – Single parents are more likely to be working part-time in order to balance their caring responsibilities.  Often assumed to be incompatible with higher paid roles, working part-time means that single parents are frequently forced to work below their skill level to achieve the flexibility they need.
  • Lack of affordable childcare – 41% of single parents struggle to afford childcare – compared with 14% of parents in couples.  A lack of affordable childcare prevents many single parents from seeking better paid roles and blocks in-work progression.
  • Lack of flexibility – A lack of flexibility forces many single parents to work fixed hours in order to balance work and childcare commitments.  Single parents in London in particular, often have to factor in the additional constraint of commuting.  This lack of flexibility means single parents are not only unable to work additional hours, but they are also blocked from training and the socialising aspect of some jobs – key factors associated with limiting opportunities for progression.
  • Time out of the labour market – Being consistently in work helps people to escape low pay, single parents are more likely to have ‘work gaps’.
  • Relationship between education and job roles – Single parents tend to have fewer educational qualifications than the working-age population as a whole. While lower levels of education will typically limit single parents’ rates of progression, many single parents are over-qualified for the work they are currently undertaking.

While none of the barriers identified are unique to single parents, they are disproportionately experienced by this group and have greater impact on single parent families.

Laura Dewar, Gingerbread Policy Officer said: “Almost all single parents are in work or want to work but our report shows many are being held back in their careers due to structural barriers which trap them in lower paid jobs.  These blocks mean single parents are missing out on more senior roles and businesses are overlooking an untapped pool of talent.  With some simple, practical changes, the UK economy could really benefit from valuable skills and the lives of many single parent families could be improved.”

Gingerbread is calling on the government to:

  • Introduce improved rights for all to support flexible working
  • Offer single parents additional childcare support, in particular with a Childcare Deposit Scheme for parents on Universal Credit with pre-school children based on the successful scheme devised by Gingerbread and developed by the Greater London Authority
  • Improve provision of support and advice to help single parents to progress in work.

Gingerbread calls on employers to:

  • Use their appraisal system to encourage single parents within their workforce to consider progression
  • Offer coaching to build the confidence of single parents enabling them to progress.




7 comments on “Report shows single parents held back in their careers and trapped in low paid roles

  1. Yes … It is incredibly difficult to manage .
    How does the government expect you to manage on Universal Credit, and working -when they take 63p in every pound earned? Then provide you with less financial support even when you have such a low amount to be expected to manage on.
    Am in private rent – with my 2 who are 18 + 19 . Neither of them work for different reasons.
    my rent alone is £1,200. I have £900 this month to manage on – How can this be justified ?

  2. Its about tine this is recognised. I graduated last year which was an amazing achievement alone managing to do it with three young boys, but because of the reasons stated in the report. Now ive graduated i cannot get a job to fit in with the challenges of single parenthood. Childcare, flexibility etc. So many great single parents have great skills too!

  3. The cost of childcare is extortionate and makes returning to work incredibly difficult. The government pays 85% of childcare fees, up to a maximum of £646 per month. This is not a sufficient or realistic amount. I was also told that they could only pay £27 per day towards the initial months’ deposit needed to secure a nursery place when I had enquired about a possible job opportunity. £27 per day?! A decent nursery place costs around £60 per day at a minimum! This is over £1000 a month. Single mums do not have this kind of money to hand over up front. We need the government to take a more realistic approach. Speak to more mothers about their barriers getting back to work and put in place policies that are effective and helping us to get back into the workplace and create a better future for our children.

    1. Feeling trapped is so true. I have a degree and i would give anything to be out there working 9-5 even more so as a single parent. But with all after school clubs disappearing and only one childminder serving the whole school its impossible and its miserable! A year one and nothing has changed! I am so sick of hearing cant family help. Since when did every single mother around have family to help! We need a childcare system for all

  4. Career Progression isn’t the sole issue here. Single parents regardless of their work status , be that low-skill work or a skilled profession, should be able to live comfortably. The ‘Living Wage’ is laughable – even working full-time hours on the living wage, single parents still are eligible and, more importantly, require additional financial support by way of Universal Credit or the quickly disappearing Tax Credits – the ‘living wage’ simply isn’t enough to live on, nor is it with extra benefits.

  5. I completely agree with this. There are so many blocks that prevent single parent households from achieving their full potential in work. I couldn’t agree more with the comments. As a lone mother myself, I face these barriers. I have a nursing qualification that I am not using because of the lack of flexibility. But it’s not just nursing. Most job roles these days require you to work longer days, evenings, nights and weekends. Which is just not feasible when you have children. Not to mention the amount of school holidays you need to work around. I get universal credit and work a part time cleaning job. Whilst I would get 85% of the childcare costs back, I cannot afford the costs up front. I’m stuck in a cycle of not having enough money but not being able to afford the childcare to go out and earn more money. Plus the childcare hours are 8am to 6pm. If I were to go back to nursing I’m required to work 8am to 8pm. So I would need to then pay more money for a child minder to have my child from 7am to 8am and again from 6pm until 8pm. That’s an extremely long day for my child. Who has additional needs too. Not to mention the lack of time with my child. I just wouldn’t see them on the days that I worked. If I were to do nights I’m then having to pay a huge chunk of what I’m earning to someone else to mind my child over night. Holiday clubs are ridiculously expensive. Also I would then be paying full council tax and rent. So I would be no better off and they wonder why some people arent motivated to go back to work. I want to work. The money I get left with on UC isn’t enough to cover the cost of living. But I’m just stuck in a vicious cycle at the moment.

  6. This pandemic has just escalated the problems single working parents face. I am unable to find part time work after being made redundant in September. Ive only been able to work full time because of the lockdown and my 17 year old being messed about at college meant he was able to do the school run and babysitting. I work full time 9-5 and earn £10 more a week than my previous job where I worked 25 hours. My living costs have almost doubled (rent and household bills during lockdown) I’ve been served notice from my landlord but can’t find anywhere else due to the rise in rents and my earnings not being double or triple the annual rent (ridiculous) or being in a permanent job. I’m in a temporary role where I feel I’m not reaching my potential, no sick pay and only just qualified for holiday pay (since November due to temping in various roles that fit around the children and the pandemic)Then you have the guilt of having little time, energy or money to spend quality time with your children or to even get time off during holidays. There is not enough flexibility in jobs and very little in the way of part time roles with decent enough pay that don’t require you working evenings or weekends. I personally think full time hours should be shortened to 30 hours and more roles made available. Life’s not just about working 37-40+ hours a week just so you can get by in life there has to be a good balance which I believe in turn results in better quality of life, lower sickness/stress levels and children being able to enjoy the same luxuries and quality of life as those in better financial situations. It feels like single parents get it all thrown at them and more! This needs to change

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