Childcare is important for both children’s development and parents’ employment. For single parents, childcare is particularly important to help make work possible. As both the main carer and main earner, single parents can’t ‘shift-parent’ in the same way couple parents do in order to manage nursery and school pick-ups and drop-offs.

Single parents tell us that the lack of affordable and flexible childcare available locally often prevents them from entering (or re-entering) work. Research shows that single parents are particularly likely to work more hours if they had access to good quality childcare. Currently there is not enough affordable and accessible childcare:

  • 41% of working and 37% of non-working single parents found it difficult to meet their childcare costs in 2018. Just 13% of couple households with one working parent and 18% of couple households with both parents in work experienced difficulties (i)
  • Nearly half of single parents surveyed had to borrow from friends, family or formal lenders to cover childcare costs (ii)
  • 52% of non-working mothers said that if they could arrange good quality childcare which was convenient, reliable and affordable, they would prefer to go out to work (iii)

Our position

Gingerbread believes good childcare – affordable, high-quality and responsive to parents’ needs – is vital to enable single (and couple) parents to make genuine choices on work and care.

We think investment in childcare should be seen as part and parcel of investing in infrastructure – it helps life chances, employment and the economy. We particularly believe that government support for childcare costs should be targeted at those most in need, particularly those on low incomes.

Finally, the role of childcare should be considered more broadly, including how it can support parents in training, transitioning into work and in insecure work.

Our goals for change

We want to see more affordable and flexible childcare for single – and couple – parents. In particular, we hope for:

  • Support for the up-front costs of childcare without the Flexible Support Fund – which due to Departmental Pressures, can create perverse incentives to discourage people from accessing the fund (iv). A deposit guarantee, where local or national government covers repayable deposits to hold a childcare place before entering work, would help parents who are locked out of work by up-front costs before their first pay cheque arrives
  • Extension of free childcare support to those who need it most – the government can shift eligibility criteria for its flagship 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four year olds, to ensure those in education and training, part-time work and/or mini-jobs are covered
  • An improvement in the availability of accessible, wraparound childcare that works for working single parents


i. Department for Education (2018) Childcare and early years survey of parents in England: 2018.

ii. Rabindrakumar, S. (2015) Paying the Price: the childcare challenge. London: Gingerbread.

iii. See i.

iv. National Audit Office (2016) Investigation into misuse of the Flexible Support Fund in Plaistow.

Statistics last updated September 2019.

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