Gingerbread survey shows ‘cost-of-living crisis’ is forcing single parent families to go hungry to make ends meet

Posted 18 February 2022

The cost-of-living crisis is biting for households across the UK. Soaring food and fuel costs, coupled with scant help from this Government, are a reality that’s hard to bear for many on low incomes. It’s widely predicted that the ‘worst is yet to come’ with more people pushed into poverty and out of their homes. As is often the case, those on the lowest incomes are being hit the hardest, with single parent families among the worst affected.

One single parent told us: 

“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.”

Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents, has seen more calls than ever to its helpline from people who are worried about making ends meet for them and their children. Despite the fact the vast majority of single parents are in work, they now make up 78% of Universal Credit claimants, this is expected to rise to 90% when UC is fully rolled out.   Since the start of the pandemic, the number of single parents on the benefit has increased by more than half a million, from 867,000 in February 2020 to over 1.4 million last September[1].

This figure has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Being trapped on low incomes during the cost-of-living crisis means too many single parents are now making the heart-breaking decision to go hungry so their children don’t go without and things are likely to get worse over the coming months as further price increases bite.

To establish the scale of the problem, Gingerbread ran a survey to see how the cost-of-living crisis will affect single parent households in the charity’s network. Shockingly, when asked:

‘If you are a single parent, are you worried about the impact of rises in energy and food costs on your household budget?’

98% of respondents said they would have to cut back on household spending – just 2% were unconcerned and said they would be able to ‘absorb the increase in costs’.

Single parents said:

“I feel stuck living in a world I can’t afford to be in.”

“I am honestly terrified about how I’m going to cope financially.”

“My anxiety about finances is at an all-time high and puts constant stress on day-to-day life.”

“I’m thankful that I have financial support from my family. Without it, I would undoubtedly be facing some terrible dilemmas. I have already noticed that our regular grocery shop has nearly doubled in price in the past two years (same items).”

“I was already worried about my finances before the energy price rises so this is just another added worry, as I’m sure it is for many!”

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, said:

“We are experiencing the biggest cost-of-living shock since the 70s. Things are already difficult for single parent families and with more price hikes coming, things can only get worse. In October this Government took away the £20 Universal Credit uplift, leaving many people on low incomes struggling to make ends meet. Budgets have already been cut back as much as possible and the stark reality is there is nowhere else to go other than into debt or poverty.”

Worryingly, the survey revealed that even before we see the impact of April’s energy price cap rise, more than half of single parents who responded (53%) said they are choosing to go without so they can afford essentials for their children. Unfortunately for some, it isn’t possible to make enough savings this way and 46% will be forced to cut back on things for their children, too.

  • 62% of parents who responded said they expect to cut back on food for themselves
  • Days out and social activities (73%) and toys, books and games (52%) are the top areas being cut for both parents and children
  • 61% are worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage.

“I have just moved into my first property away from my parents, but with the rise in costs, I’m looking at the possibility of having to move back in with them before my tenancy agreement is even halfway through despite the fact that I am earning a decent full-time wage.”

In addition, some single parent families who shared their stories told us they are facing homelessness:

“Rent and utility bill costs are the most concerning and the huge hike in those is already having and will continue to have a knock-on effect in all other areas financially. I am about to become homeless and worry about where I am going to live as rents are unaffordable and I cannot get a mortgage due to chronic illness meaning I cannot work.”

While the numbers seem to indicate that more single parents will cut back on food instead of fuel, it is likely that this is because previous energy price hikes and winter weather have meant that fuel budgets have already been slashed. For some single parents this will mean they and their children will be forced to go without both heating and eating.

“Heating bills are currently crippling me, but it feels almost cruel not to heat the house to an acceptable level for my daughter. I’ve already added two blankets to our beds.”

“We are also limiting electricity where possible, just not being as frivolous, i.e. making less cups of coffee.”

“My flat is all electric & already costs me £200pm in the winter to heat and that’s with us already being frugal!”

Victoria Benson, Gingerbread CEO said:

“Housing, food and fuel are big costs for any household but for single parents with only one income they are huge. This means there is very little room to cut back elsewhere and no slack in the budget to cover price hikes. It’s clear that the cost-of-living crisis is already having a devastating impact on people across the UK – this is certainly true for single parents. The evidence is clear – the cost-of-living crisis is already causing hunger, hardship and mental anguish for too many single parent families. This government needs to urgently put in place targeted support for those on low incomes or the stark reality is that more single parents and their children will be forced to live in poverty and experience the disadvantage this brings.”