What Single Parents need from the Autumn Statement

Posted 15 November 2023

Next week, the Chancellor will announce his Autumn Statement. This is one of the key events in the political calendar, and Gingerbread want to make sure single parents’ voices are heard.

On Wednesday 22nd November, Jeremy Hunt will update MPs on the country’s finances and the government’s tax and spending plans. So today, Gingerbread have written to a range of MPs. We’re asking them to urge the Chancellor to do the following 3 things in his Autumn Statement.

  1. Restore Local Housing Allowance 
  2. Ensure the sufficiency of Universal Credit 
  3. Reverse the conditionality changes announced in the Spring Budget 

 What are we calling for, and why? 

The UK has 1.8 million single-parent households. Many of them are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.   With a  typical savings pot 20 times smaller than the UK average(ONS, 2022), they are extremely exposed to the rising cost of living. A recent Gingerbread  report highlighted that  1 in 5 single parents are now having to rely on credit to cover household essentials. As a result, 44% of children of single parents are in poverty. 

 Single parents need to see long term action to combat the structural barriers that they face. In the short term, we’re asking the government to alleviate financial hardship right now, by making the changes outlined below:

 1.Restore the Local Housing Allowance 

Single parents on a low-income should be able to access support for the cost of their rent through Local Housing Allowance (LHA). However, this is only set to cover the cheapest 30% of local private rents, and the payment rate has been frozen since March 2020. This means that the amount you can currently receive is based on rental prices from 2018 and 2019. Yet, rent has increased in some places by 20% since then. In fact, analysis has found that just 5% of advertised private rents fall within Local Housing Allowance rates, and in London this drops to 2.3%. 

Worried single parents often call our helpline because they’re struggling to pay rents hundreds of pounds above the Local Housing Allowance. The gap between LHA and soaring rents puts people in an impossible position. We know of single mums who have been forced to move to unsuitable accommodation. Others have had to move away from their support networks and even their children’s schools because of the lack of suitable, affordable housing. We are urging the Chancellor to address this urgently in the Autumn Statement. 

  1. Ensure the sufficiency of Universal Credit 

The Government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis is not helping single parents meet the cost of essentials.  The cost of living payments that some people are eligible for barely scratch the surface, and Universal Credit (UC) is insufficient in meeting soaring living costs. The basic rate of Universal Credit has eroded over time and its value now is now at its lowest ever level as a proportion of average earnings.  New analysis shows that this rate falls short of what’s needed to afford essentials. For single parents, this is particularly concerning as the cost of childcare has increased by over 50% in the past decade and this has a greater impact on their budgets. 

Moreover, sanctions, the benefit cap and the ‘two-child limit’ mean that a great proportion of single parents see their payments reduced even further. 

 In addition to scrapping the two-child limit on benefits policy and increasing the rates of Universal Credit, single parents need urgent, financial support now. Single parents tell us the £20 increase during Covid made a significant impact. Increasing UC by more than £20 now (to take into account inflation) would ensure money gets into the pockets of people that need it most, immediately. At the very least the Chancellor must ensure that UC is increased in line with inflation in the Spring. 

 3. Reverse the conditionality changes announced in the Spring Statement

Under new conditionality rules, over 700,000 lead carers on Universal Credit will need to increase their work hours significantly or spend more time seeking work to be eligible for the benefit.  90% of lead carers are women, and over 23% are disabled.  These changes fail to take into account individual circumstances, and also overlook many broader issues: 

  • sufficient childcare provision is not in place to support increased work and work search requirements
  • there are not enough part time, flexible roles available  
  • conditionality risks forcing people into poorly paid jobs – they may accept the first job that they can find that fits the hours, rather than employment that matches their skills and aspirations. 

 These changes could place lead carers in the impossible position of needing to work more hours without having access to suitable childcare or jobs.  They could also lead to a potential increase in sanctions among parents of young children. This is particularly troubling as a five-year academic study of welfare conditionality published in 2018 found that not only were sanctions ineffective, but they also impacted on people’s wellbeing and pushed them further into poverty. We believe these changes to conditionality rules must be reversed.  Alongside other charities including Save the Children, Citizens Advice and Pregnant and then Screwed we recently wrote to the Chancellor asking for a reversal of these changes.

What you can do: 

  • Write to your MP urging them to write to the Chancellor ahead of the Autumn Statement, for a template letter please email campaign@gingerbread.org.uk  
  • Gingerbread has exciting plans for a campaigner group, who will be campaigning on these issues, and much more. To express an interest, please email campaign@gingerbread.org.uk