We designed this research to provide an up-to-date picture of what it means to be a single parent in the UK in 2023, and to see what has changed since we produced our last report in 2018. We wanted to focus on how the increased cost-of-living has affected the one in four households headed by a single parent today, exploring the current financial situation of single parents, how they have coped with rising prices and how it has impacted their lives. To this end, we combined evidence drawn from a range of sources, including existing research, publicly available data, and from a Gingerbread-led national polling of single and couple parents conducted by Savanta in February 2023.
Although the demographic characteristics of single parents have largely stayed the same since 2017, we have seen an increase in the number of single parents identifying as disabled (up from 23% to 33%), and a small increase in the number of single fathers (up from 10% to 12%). The proportion of single parents in employment is now at 66% and has remained consistent over the last five years.
Our poll revealed the financial situation of 2 in 3 single parents has worsened compared to 12 months ago. 1 in 5 are now using credit to pay for household essentials and a similar proportion has started using food banks. Single mothers and those in the low and middle socio-economic groups are particularly likely to be struggling financially.
One way single parents tend to manage financial difficulties is by taking on debt, and our poll is in line with previous research highlighting this: 76% of single parent families are now in debt, with half of those reporting debts of over £2,000. Overall 1 in 3 single parents have seen their debt increase over the past year (with almost half of those seeing their debt rise by over £1,000) and they identified the rise in the costs of heating, electricity, and essentials as the number one reason for this.
Mental health impacts
Our polling data shows that the cost-of-living crisis is taking a significant toll on the wellbeing of single parents, with half of them reporting that their mental health has declined because of the rising cost-of-living, and 88% feeling worried about the rises in prices of essentials over the last 12
months. The current situation has also taken a toll on their self-esteem, sleep and physical health. These are worrying trends given that we know that many single parents were already feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious about their financial situation before the cost-of-living crisis.
This report makes clear that single parent households are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and struggle to make ends meet. For some, the situation is getting so bad that they are falling into debt. Although the UK government has taken a number of actions to provide cost-of-living support for those on lower incomes, as the crisis continues to bite, it is essential that the government takes further steps to address rising costs and provide support to single parents who are struggling to cope.