Caring Without Sharing: single parents’ journeys through the COVID-19 pandemic – final report

Published on 19 May 2021

Watch the launch webinar below, with single parent Andrea, researchers Laura Dewar and Liz Clery, Gingerbread CEO, Victoria Benson, and chaired by Institute for Employment Studies Director, Tony Wilson.

The final report arising from Gingerbread’s Caring Without Sharing research project reveals how the unique challenges for working single parents created by the COVID-19 pandemic have evolved over time and require government action going forward.   


Research published by Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies highlights the unique challenges faced by working single parents as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and traces how these have evolved over time. As the country opens up following the restrictions it is vital that the government provides better support to single parents, in order to mitigate the remaining challenges facing them as a result of the pandemic. 

The research involved successive interviews with 40 (then 33) working single parents in the summer of 2020 and winter of 2021 and an analysis of Labour Force Survey data. 

Key Findings

Single parents’ work journeys

  • Single parents have expressed highly polarised views about homeworking throughout the pandemic (identifying gains in terms of flexibility and losses in terms of interaction with others). Regardless of individual views, homeworking has to some extent become accepted as the ‘new normal’.   
  • Single parents continue to be more likely to have been furloughed than other family types. Furlough is viewed as having being applied inconsistently and a mixed blessing, with negative impacts in terms of finances and future job security.  
  • There have been widespread concerns about job security throughout the pandemic, although these have reduced over time and broadened out to cover concerns about the economy.  

Single parents’ caring journeys

  • Many single parents had to isolate due to a child’s contact with a positive COVID case, sometimes on multiple occasions. Employers were often inflexible in facilitating this, with single parents losing out financially, and there was little awareness of the government’s Track and Trace Support Grant. 
  • More single parents who were not essential workers were able to access school places during the third lockdown, although schools’ approaches were widely viewed as inconsistent. Most single parents felt that the unique challenges facing them working and caring in isolation had been recognised in the development of policy, with some feeling they should have been given a status equivalent to that of essential worker. 
  • Provision of home learning and communication from schools was viewed more positively in the third lockdown, although significant challenges remained for those with primary-aged children who required more input. Schools were viewed as inconsistent in the amount of work required from children, which in some cases was seen as excessive.  

Challenges for the future

As the UK emerges from the third lockdown, three significant challenges remain for single parent families:  

  • Homeworking during the pandemic has created flexibility for some families; however, single parents need access to other forms of flexible working especially quality part-time jobs.  
  • Ongoing restrictions in the availability of childcare and wraparound support and increased childcare costs will make it harder for single parents to move into or remain  in work.  
  • Single parent employment is concentrated in industries which had been hard hit by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Report recommendations

The report sets out a range of recommendations for government and others to address these challenges. These recommendations focus on:  

  • Improving access to childcare and reduce the upfront costs for single parents.  
  • Increasing opportunities for flexible working. 
  • Ensuring clearer support for single parents whose children need to self-isolate.  
  • Developing tailored back to work and training support for single parents. 
  • Improving access to mental health services for single parents and their children.

Watch the Caring Without Sharing launch event webinar: