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28th Nov 2023
Posted 3 November 2021
Laura Dewar, Gingerbread's Policy and Research Lead highlights what this week's Autumn Budget means for single parents.
This week’s Autumn Budget has seen winners (cider drinkers and short-haul flyers) and losers (savers and smokers) but what does it mean for single parents?
Of the 1.8 million single parents in the UK, 69% were in work before the pandemic. However, it is hard for single parents to find a job that is flexible to the demands of caring for children and the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.
Working single parents were already financially on the back foot before the pandemic, with coupled mothers earning nearly twice as much per week as single mothers. But with single parents being more likely to work in sectors such as retail, travel and hospitality – sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic – many single parents lost hours and jobs.
Therefore, the announcement of a rise in the National Living Wage (NLW) and a decrease in the Universal Credit taper rate is welcomed and will mean that some working single parents will see their pay increase, albeit by a small amount.
That said, those same single parents have also experienced a cut of £20 a week to their Universal Credit which will not be covered by the increases announced in this Budget. As the majority of those single parents who work do so part-time, and in lower income jobs, such marginal increases to a single parent’s pay from the taper rate reduction and increase in NLW are more than likely to be swallowed up by the huge ongoing rise in household costs, particularly food and energy bills, and certainly won’t make up for the loss of the £20 uplift which proved such a lifeline during the pandemic.
There are also single parents who are either not expected to work – for example they have a disability or care for a child with a disability, or who have a child aged under three – or who are currently seeking work who have received nothing in the Budget, but who have lost the £20 uplift and face the same increase in living costs. These single parents have been completely forgotten by the Chancellor.
While the single parent unemployment rate is 12%, there are no specialist work coaches in Jobcentres to support single parents back into work. Due to their caring responsibilities and the difficulties of balancing childcare and work, the majority of single parents are seeking part-time roles but these are currently in very short supply. The Chancellor failed to recognise the specific needs of single parents and missed an opportunity to encourage employers to offer vacancies as job shares or with flexible working arrangements, something that would open up more quality part-time roles for single parents and help lift their pay levels.
High childcare costs remain a substantial barrier for single parents wanting to move into work or progress to more hours. Whilst the inclusion of financial support for childcare providers is a welcome addition in the Budget, it does not address the high costs of childcare for single parents, which are usually met from just one wage. Although single parents receiving Universal Credit can claim up to 85% of childcare costs, these costs are paid in arrears and are based on the cost of childcare in 2003. This means any single parent wanting to move into a job needs to fund upfront childcare costs which may be hundreds of pounds. As very few single parents can afford them, they then have to borrow to pay them or have to turn down work.
What the Chancellor gave with one hand, he took away with the other. An increase in the National Living Wage and a decrease to the Universal Credit taper rate are certainly a move in the right direction. However, single parents we have spoken to through our research and our advice helpline are already keenly feeling the loss of the £20 Universal Credit uplift and are struggling with the increased costs of living this winter.
Although some may see more money in their pockets at the end of each month, at a time when the cost of living is expected to rise by 4% over the next year many more single parent families will be left with the choice of either eating or heating as we approach a cold winter.
We really should have seen more consideration given to single parents: help with childcare costs, getting back into work and a retention of the uplift. While single parent households make up a quarter of families with dependent children in the UK, their needs have not been considered in the Budget. Yet again, single parents and their children have been overlooked by those in power.
Author: Laura Dewar, Gingerbread