Caring without sharing: Single parents’ journeys through the Covid-19 Crisis – Interim Report

Published on 12 November 2020

Interim findings from Gingerbread’s Caring Without Sharing research report reveals the unique challenges for working single parents created by the COVID-19 Crisis that the government needs to address.


New research published by Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies highlights unique challenges faced by working single parents, including for those who will lose their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 Crisis. As the country experiences a second lockdown, with growing unemployment and continued childcare restrictions, it is vital that the government provides better support to single parents.

The research examines the impact of the COVID-19 Crisis, including an analysis of the Labour Force Survey, and interviews with forty single parents. In the New Year, further analysis – including follow up interviews – will take place to examine the journeys of single parents through the crisis.

Key statistical findings:

  • In early 2020, single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes than other family types. Mothers in coupled households earned almost twice as much per week than single mothers.
  • Nearly half (46%) of single parents worked in routine occupations compared to coupled parents (26%). Routine occupations in retail, hotels and restaurants have been particularly impacted by cuts to hours and job losses as a result of the crisis.
  • While the first lockdown saw an increase in those who could work from home, this shift was less pronounced for single parents (21%) than coupled parents (38%).
  • Single parents are more likely to have been furloughed (30%) compared to couple parents (21%), reflecting both single parents’ caring responsibilities and the fact that they are more likely to work in sectors that will experience further job losses as a result of the pandemic.
  • Single parents were twice as likely to have poor mental health compared to other family types, immediately before and in the early stages of the crisis. Overall, 51% of single parents reported having depression, bad nerves or anxiety – compared with 27% of coupled parents.

Key findings from our interviews with single parents:

The single parents we interviewed were combining working with caring for their children – often with reduced or no support. Throughout the first lockdown, this was commonly experienced as an ‘impossible balancing act’, with single parents making constant trade-offs between their work and caring responsibilities.

As restrictions eased in July, single parents perceived an uncertain future, experiencing widespread concern about job security and their ability to secure new work. Ongoing uncertainty around work and childcare availability made planning for the future impossible. It was widely felt by single parents that the unique challenges facing them had not been sufficiently accounted for in policy and guidelines developed in response to the crisis.

As the country progresses through a second lockdown, many of the challenges faced by single parents remain. The Government needs to act fast to support single parents to stay in work, find new work or retrain.

Report recommendations:

Support single parents to stay in work

  • Extension of the furlough scheme is welcome. However, it is currently up to employers to decide whether a staff member can be part of the scheme. This needs to change so that single parents can access the scheme, including where they need to do so for their caring responsibilities when their child or children are required to isolate.
  • In the meantime, the Test and Trace Isolation Grant must be made available to parents on low incomes who cannot work when their children are sent home from childcare or school to self-isolate.

Support single parents to get back to work

  • Targeted support must be provided for single parents who lost their job during the COVID-19 crisis, including making them a priority group in the new JETS back to work programme. Jobcentre Plus should use the expansion of its work coach capacity to reintroduce specialist single parent advisers.

Support to retrain

  • There should be a greater emphasis on the back-to-work offer for single parents to improve their skills. The new Lifetime Skills Guarantee is welcome but must reflect the needs of single parents, including access to courses with free childcare through Universal Credit.