New Research: Debt is a Ticking Timebomb for Single Parent Families

Posted 21 March 2023

To mark Single Parents’ Day (21st March), Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, has released a new report and data which shows that:

  • 76% of single parent families are in debt, with half of those reporting debts of over £2000
  • 86% of single parents are worried about their ability to pay for household essentials, with 20% already relying on credit to cover these costs
  • 32% of single parents have seen their debt increase over the past year and almost half of those have seen their debt rocket by over £1,000.
  • The rise in the costs of heating, electricity, and essentials is the number one reason for increased debt.

These findings are particularly troubling, as median income for SP families (after housing costs) is typically around 15K per year[1], making it likely that these debts and the interest they accrue will impact household budgets for a long time to come. In addition, debt levels are expected to continue rise as prices increase more quickly than salaries and welfare support.

This paints a particularly bleak picture as children in single parent families are already twice as likely as those in couple parent families to live in poverty. And while the make-up of a child’s family doesn’t affect their wellbeing and life chances, living in poverty does.

In work poverty is a big problem for single parent families. We know that while the vast majority of single parents are in work, this doesn’t protect them or their children from living in poverty or struggling with debt – and the problem is getting worse.

Single parents can’t simply work more hours to escape the debt trap – in fact Gingerbread’s research shows the more hours a single parent works the more likely they are to be in problem debt[2]. This is largely due to the high cost of childcare and without childcare many single parents simply can’t work.

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread said:

“Single parents are brilliant at budgeting – they have to be – but they are not miracle workers. They have been pushed to their financial limits by years of austerity, followed by the covid pandemic and now the deepening cost of living crisis. For too many it has gone far beyond choosing between ‘heating and eating’ – we know single parent families are going without both food and warmth, as they simply cannot afford to make ends meet.

“Debt is a ticking timebomb – we’re seeing a worrying rise in the number of single parents forced to rely on expensive debt and the impact of this will be felt long after the cost of living crisis has ended. We need to see concerted action from this government and a genuine commitment to protect single parent families from the devastating impact that poverty has not only on day to day life but on the life chances of children.”

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity:

“On top of these historic pressures, the pandemic and cost of living crisis have swept more and more single parents into hardship and problem debt, with alarming numbers using food banks and even skipping meals in order to feed their children.

“If we’re to end the debt trap facing so many single parents, the safety net around them must be strengthened. The government’s commitment to better fund childcare is a welcome start but clearly more targeted protection is needed. Developing affordable credit options to provide no or low interest loans to financially vulnerable households would provide access to sustainable credit that would help single parents cope with larger essential costs that can otherwise lead to problem debt.”

Our research also showed that:

  • 59% of single parents say their financial situation is now worse than it was 12 months ago (33% describe it as ‘much worse’)
  • 42% of single parents have asked for financial help from family, friends or professional services (e.g. grant making organisations) over the last 12 months
  • 19% have fallen behind on debt repayments in the last 12 months
  • 10% of single parent have had to move in with parents, relatives, or friends

Key facts about single parent families:

  • There are nearly two million single parent families in the UK – representing a quarter of families with dependent children
  • Almost 90% of single parents are women
  • The average age of a single parent is 39
  • Less than one per cent of single parents are teenagers, and this is declining
  • 33% of single parents are disabled
  • 66% of single parents are in employment – before the pandemic this number was rising but it has fallen from 69% since 2019.
  • 75% single parents have no savings or savings of less than £1500, compared with 43% of couple parents or 35% of UK adults


  • The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should reform Universal Credit (UC) by abolishing the benefit cap and the 2-child limit for single parent households
  • DWP should restore the £20 uplift to UC, introduced during the pandemic, while also undertaking a review to ensure UC is paid at a sufficient level and is permanently linked to inflation so that it meets the cost of family essentials and protects claimants and their family from poverty
  • The Department for Education (DfE) should urgently review and invest in the childcare sector to ensure that it meets single parents’ needs and is affordable, costing a household no more than 5% of their income
  • HM Treasury should ensure greater access to advice on debt, so that it reaches those who need it most
  • HM Treasury should look at developing affordable credit options to provide no or low interest loans to financially vulnerable households, which would provide access to sustainable credit as a safety net.



Notes to editors

For a copy of the report, further information, case studies or interviews please contact:

Fresh Communication: 0117 369 0025

Nathalie Golden: 07769 66 66 27,

Lisa Sutherland: 07801 979 987,

About the research

Savanta interviewed 1,084 UK parents, including 534 single parents, online between 16th and 22ndFebruary 2023. Quotas were set on age, gender, and region of parents. Savanta are members of British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

About Gingerbread

Gingerbread is the leading charity working with single parent families. Our mission is to champion and enable single parent families to live secure, happy and fulfilling lives.

Since 1918 we’ve been supporting, advising and campaigning with single parents to help them meet their family’s needs and achieve their goals. We want to create a world in which diverse families can thrive. We won’t stop working until we achieve this vision. Whatever success means for a single parent – a healthy family, a flexible job, stable finances or a chance to study – we work with them to make it happen.


[1] In spring 2022 (March – June), single parents were already spending 87% of their income each week, with the average family left with just £57.40 per week: