Gingerbread's policy and research team develop responses to consultations to highlight key issues that impact single parents and their families. This can include comment on consultation and discussions papers, published by the UK Government, various statutory agencies and other bodies.
This page provides Gingerbread's response to the Government's Spending Review 2021 Consultation.
Gingerbread is the leading national charity working with single parent families. Our mission is to champion and enable single parent families to live secure, happy, and fulfilling lives. We advise, support and campaign with single parents to help them meet the needs of their families and achieve their goals.
We are responding to this consultation based on our extensive research and engagement with single parent families, particularly around the impact of the pandemic on single parent families and their work and economic participation. Caring Without Sharing: single parents’ journeys through the COVID-19 pandemic – final report | Gingerbread
We comment on the priorities set out by the government for the Spending Review 2021 (SR21), the likely effectiveness, deliverability, and value for money of proposals and the costs and benefits of proposals.
We note SR21 will be a multi-year Spending Review which will set resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25”; and we are commenting on the following priorities: how the Government will Build Back Better, by continuing to support businesses and jobs through ensuring strong and innovative public services; levelling up across the UK to increase and spread opportunity unleashing the potential of places by improving outcomes UK-wide and delivering the Plan for Growth including ambitious plans for an infrastructure and innovation revolution.
- Gingerbread supports the above Government priorities; and for them to succeed the Government should consider the needs of the UK’s 1.8 million single parent families who represent nearly a quarter of all families with dependent children. (Families and Households in the UK, ONS 2019).
- The ability of the heads of a quarter of the UK’s families to participate in the labour market, education, and training, and to ensure the resilience of their families will be critical to ensuring the Government delivers on its priorities on public services, growth and levelling up. Appropriate investment and policies will be needed to ensure single parents can participate economically and their families are supported to thrive post-pandemic.
- 60 percent of single parents are on low income and the child poverty rate is higher among single parent families. Child poverty | JRF Single parent families are disproportionately represented among households that are female headed, Black and Mixed Race heritage Families and households – GOV.UK Ethnicity facts and figures (ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk) and contain a parent and/or child with a disability. As a group, single parent families are under-privileged with intersectionality heightening inequalities for some groups; and the pandemic has worsened these impacts, impacting the outcomes for parents and children in these households.
- Before the pandemic 69 per cent of all single parents were in employment although they predominated in low-paid roles – part-time jobs, and jobs in High Street retail, hospitality and leisure and administration and support. However, our research found that during the pandemic single parents were more likely to have been furloughed (30%) compared to coupled parents (21%) and to have stayed on furlough for a longer period than coupled parents. Single parents have a higher unemployment rate (12%) even compared to coupled parents (6%) and they are likely to face even greater unemployment as the furlough scheme closes at the end of September
- Polling we carried out during the pandemic with more than 1000 single parents in England Wales revealed single parents experienced high rates of loneliness and isolation, mental health, and well-being, home-schooling and difficulties with paying the bills. So far single parent households are £600 more in debt than pre-pandemic The single parent debt trap | Gingerbread and DWP CMS statistics suggest that the rate of statutory child maintenance they receive has reduced as more Paying Parents pay the flat rate of child maintenance through deduction from benefits rather than earnings Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to June 2021 (experimental) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- We are pleased that during the pandemic the Government offered historic levels of support to crisis-hit households. Single parent families have benefited from such innovative safety nets as the furlough scheme, the Test and Trace self-isolating grant, the Self-Employed Income Support grant, and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. The last alone has benefited around 1.1 million single parent households on Universal Credit.
- However, these safety nets are now being withdrawn all at once just as low-income single parent households face soaring fuel and food prices; and uncertainty remains about the impact of COVID-19 this autumn. We have calculated that the withdrawal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift means that more than £1 billion a year total is being withdrawn from the UK’s 1.1 million single parent families on Universal Credit.
- We are concerned by the DWP Secretary’s assertion that the UC claimants should be able to compensate for the loss of the £20 uplift by finding a couple of hours’ more work a week. In respect of single parents this assertion fails to take into account the high rate of in -work poverty among single parents Child poverty | JRF, the availability and costs of childcare and work-related conditionality requirements which progressively limit the working hours of single parents until their child reaches the age of 13. We are unclear how a single parent on UC with a child of three with a requirement to work 16 hours would be able work an extra two hours a week without losing money through the current taper rates and childcare costs.
- More generally our research has shown that single parents with dependent children are excluded from quality jobs because of a lack of supply of affordable childcare and inadequate support for childcare through Universal Credit; lack of flexible working opportunities and poorly targeted employment support
- While new jobs are being created, there is an ongoing mismatch between these vacancies and labour supply (ONS, September 2021); and as long as 1.8 million single parents with dependent children face the barriers above, we do not see how they are going to help fill these vacancies and participate in delivering strong public services or an innovation and infrastructure revolution.
- Many parents would like to work full time but are deterred by the cost of childcare, and the poor level support for childcare under Universal Credit which does not meet upfront costs and is pegged to childcare caps dating back to 2003
- The pandemic has reduced the supply of formal childcare with over a third (35%) of local authorities reporting that the number of childcare providers permanently closing in their area had gone up in the last year. Childcare providers were struggling to remain sustainable during the pandemic, with 39% of LAs seeing childcare providers raising their prices. Childcare Survey 2021 | Family and Childcare Trust . The Department for Education’s own figures show over 20,000 childcare providers closing their doors in the three months of 2021.
- The pandemic saw a dramatic increase in the number of jobs that could be done flexibly including an overnight switch to many roles being worked from home. But single parents were more likely to work in jobs that cannot be worked from home – the shift to home working was less pronounced for single parents (21% increase) than for couple parents (38% increase). There has been a decrease in part-time work. Timewise have also found that only 8% of jobs are advertised as part-time, a drop in the number of advertised roles to the level in the 1990’s. Flexible Jobs Index 2020 – Timewise – Flexible Working Research Work coaches have found it hard to support single parents into work due to a lack of part-time and flexible jobs.
- The lack of a guaranteed right to flexible working impedes many single parents’ participation and progression in the job market. While we welcome the proposed new right to request flexible working from day one as an improvement that may help some, many single parents tell us they want is certainty and security when they apply for a job; they need to know the expected hours of a job and how it is to be worked so they can be sure that the job will fit in with their caring responsibilities on their own and the available childcare.
- The concentration of single parents in the industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic – High St retail, hospitality, administration – means that they are highly vulnerable to the cuts in jobs anticipated with the end of furlough. Back-to-work support therefore needs to address both the requirements of single parents to work and care on their own and the big hit to sectors where single parents worked before the pandemic, which may not exist to the same extent.
- It is important that single parents are not left behind and that they have opportunities to have tailored back to work support that makes the most of their skills, including opportunities to retrain into new and emerging sectors. Previous schemes to help single parents into work were geared towards voluntary support with the New Deal for Lone Parents and specialist support from Lone Parent Advisers.
- While we welcome the introduction of a number of new employment schemes, including most recently Restart, we note the concerns of the National Audit Office that new schemes may be insufficiently targeted Employment support – National Audit Office (NAO) Press release and that, since the introduction of ‘Lone Parent Obligations’ support for single parents from JobCentres has been largely through generalist work coaches. Based on the current rules, there are also limited opportunities for single parents to train or improve their skills. This is set as a maximum of 10 weeks for most claimants.
Our recommendations to ensure the success of the Government’s priorities for SR21 are:
- To maximise the participation of the UK’s 1.8 million single parent households the Government should increase investment in the childcare infrastructure and support with childcare under Universal Credit. The 30-hour free childcare offer should be extended to single parents who are in training and have preschool-age children and made available to all job-seeking single parents who are undertaking training or improving their skills. Universal Credit should receive investment to meet the upfront costs of childcare and the level of childcare support that can be claimed under Universal Credit should be reviewed, in particular the out-of-date childcare caps.
- The Government should follow-through on its previous commitment to a new employment bill legislating for jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one; and provide employers with financial support or incentives to embrace flexible working. The Government’s Behavioural Insights Team has found that showing and offering flexible working options in job adverts increases applications by 30% and that greater transparency in job adverts would create at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy per year.
- The Spending Review should prioritise investment in back-to-work support for single parents. We endorse the Women and Work Select Committee Inquiry recommendation that the “DWP must expand and tailor its offer for mothers seeking employment, so that it encompasses retraining and re-skilling for jobs in the most viable sectors” Those single parents who ultimately lose their jobs after the furlough scheme closes in autumn 2021 should be a priority, with similar access to the back-to work-schemes for those who are longer term unemployed. The current system relies too heavily on generalist work coach support and there should be the re-introduction of specialist single parent advisers. Many single parents will need support to retrain and reskill, and it is vital that this is backed up with affordable access to childcare
- To ensure the resilience of single parent families and their capacity to join the labour market the Government should retain the £20 uplift to Universal Credit until April 2022 and extend it to single parent families on legacy benefits and those who are benefit capped. From April 2022, The Government should look to invest more in Universal Credit to implement more just taper rates and improved support for childcare.
Submitted: September 2021