Tackling single parent poverty after the Coronavirus

Published on 16 December 2020


Based on new research from the Learning and Work Institute and Gingerbread supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the report Tackling single parent poverty after the Coronavirus explores the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on single parents and sets out what can be done to reduce single parent poverty after the pandemic. The research is based on new analysis of national survey data, interviews and a workshop with single parents who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. We also highlight the changes single parents want to see to help them back into decent work and out of poverty, as we emerge from the pandemic.

Key Findings

  • Single parents are more likely to have lost their jobs, with nearly one in ten (9%) falling out of employment. One in three (34%) single parents have been furloughed, compared to just one in four (25%) coupled parents;
  • Single parents who remained in work saw the biggest decline in hours, with working hours shrinking by an average of 7.6 hours;
  • Single parents are more likely to say they are finding it difficult to manage their finances (11%) and that they are behind with their bills (13%) than couples with children;
  • Single parent families were over three times as likely to have relied on food banks during the crisis, compared to coupled families (7% compared to 2%).
  • Single parents are more pessimistic about their future, with one in five (18%) expecting their financial situation to get worse.

There was a significant and sustained increase in the single parent employment rate in the two decades prior to the pandemic, with the employment gap with other parents nearly halving over that period. However, of those single parents who were in work, most worked part-time and they were more likely than other parents to be both low paid and to be stuck in low pay. This meant that nearly half (44%) of children in a single parent family were in poverty on the eve of the crisis, compared to just one in four (26%) of those living in other families.

The new analysis suggests that the pandemic is hitting single parents hard. Single parents are more likely to have lost hours and to have lost income in recent months. They are more likely both to have been furloughed and to have lost their jobs – with a risk that the single parent employment gap has widened as a result of the pandemic.

There has been a double impact from the pandemic on single parent families. Firstly, they are more likely to have been working in the industries and the jobs that have been hit hardest and are less likely to have been able to continue working from home. Secondly, as sole carers, they have experienced greater disruption as a result of the closure of childcare and schools earlier in the crisis. Given a greater impact on employment and incomes for a group that was already facing significant disadvantage, the coronavirus pandemic risks both deepening pre-existing inequalities and pushing more single parents and children into poverty.

Key Recommendations

Based on statistical findings and the evidence from the single parents involved in this project, we have developed a four-point plan to tackle poverty and promote access to good work after the pandemic:

  • Provide high-quality employment and skills support for single parents, including specialist single parent work coaches or referral to specialist providers to help single parents find good quality work and progress in work;
  • Support the creation of high-quality flexible and part-time jobs, including making the Employment Bill, which includes the provision requiring jobs to be advertised as flexible by default, a priority;
  • Improve childcare support – which is currently a key barrier to work for single parents – including providing better help with the upfront costs of childcare and changing Universal Credit rules so that parents do not have to meet childcare costs in advance; and
  • Ensure our social security system provides sufficient and effective support both for single parents who are out of work and those in employment, including through retaining the £20 increase to Universal Credit, extending it to legacy benefits and scrapping the five-week wait.