Before the pandemic, 69 per cent of parents were in work.
However:
– 60% of single parents are on low income
– 27 million of Universal Credit claimants are single parents[1], and
– Single parents continue to have the highest in-work poverty rate[2].

This means that single parents are less likely to be able to afford the childcare that exists in the UK. Our research (2021’s Caring without Sharing report) highlights that the unaffordability of childcare means single parents are deterred from working full-time, that their in-work progression is impeded and that the upfront costs of childcare contribute to their higher rates of household debt.

Enquiries to the Gingerbread helpline often highlight that childcare providers ask for one month’s fees in advance but we know that the DWP only provides assistance with these costs one month in arrears – saddling single parents with permanent debt.

This means that many single parents must choose between caring safely for their children or going out to work to provide for them. Some have told us they have to save up before they can start work, just to be able to provide childcare for their children.

Looked at from the other perspective: pre-pandemic, a lack of affordable childcare prevented many single parents from entering and staying in employment. And the pandemic has now had a further impact on the supply and costs of childcare[3].

Recommendations:

  • Increased investment in both child infrastructure and support with childcare under Universal Credit; in particular how Universal Credit upfront costs of childcare and the level of childcare that can be claimed under Universal Credit which was capped at a level not changed since 2003.
  • The government should roll out a national childcare deposit fund to help parents meet upfront costs of childcare when they enter work, building on the scheme developed by Gingerbread at local authority level. This should be universally available and paid from a specific fund rather than being drawn on a discretionary basis from the Flexible Support Fund – which has been shown not to meet the level of support needs.
  • The Department for Education should review the childcare caps set in 2003, which do not deliver the promised childcare support of up to 85 per cent under Universal Credit. These caps, set in 2003, have not been adjusted to inflation meaning that a single parent can only claim the same amount of money for childcare than they would have been able to almost 20 years ago.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions should act on the High Court ruling from January 2021 to change the payment structure under Universal Credit so that childcare costs are made upfront, rather than in arrears.
  • As well as extending the 30-hour free childcare offer to single parents who are in training and have preschool-age children, childcare support should be made available to all job-seeking single parents who are undertaking training or improving their skills.
  • Given the vital role of childcare as an enabler to allow parents to get into and stay in work, the UK government should use the next Spending Review to expand the definition of infrastructure to include childcare and incorporate funding to overhaul provision and affordability into its post-COVID recovery plans.
  • In the event of future school and childcare closures, it is vital that there are emergency childcare easements in place for single parent job seekers on Universal Credit and that the DWP produces guidance for work coaches as a matter of urgency. Information about childcare easements should be publicised, including in Universal Credit journals.

It has been such an incredibly stressful time as a single parent to deal with this especially trying to get back to work where childcare is so ridiculously expensive.

Gingerbread helpline caller

Key findings from Gingerbread research[4]:

  • During the pandemic, there has been a relaxation of work conditionality towards single parents under Universal Credit. However, the DWP have indicated that the work conditionality regime is going to be implemented again this autumn.
  • Single parents are more likely to have been made redundant or furloughed and are overrepresented in jobs swiftly disappearing from the labour market, such as part-time roles, high street retail, hospitality and administration.
  • As single parents are more likely to have been furloughed than other groups, they would not be considered longer-term unemployed, despite in effect having been away from work for a significant period. Many single parents will need support to retrain and reskill – and it is vital that this is backed up with affordable access to childcare.
  • Ongoing restrictions in the availability of childcare and wraparound support make it harder for single parents to stay in work or retrain. It is likely there will be further childcare closures and more limited provision of wraparound care in the coming months. The pandemic has also led to increases in the costs of childcare.
  • Support under Universal Credit for childcare is of limited help as it does not deliver the promised 85 per cent of childcare support, and its failure to assist with the upfront costs of childcare means that disproportionate numbers of single parents will pay a childcare penalty for re-entering the labour market.
  • The pandemic has meant that over a third (35 per cent) of local authorities reported that the number of childcare providers permanently closing in their area had gone up in the last year[5]. Childcare providers were struggling to remain sustainable during the pandemic, with 39 per cent of local authorities seeing childcare providers raise their prices[6].
  • As the UK came out of the first lockdown, the availability of childcare was more limited and single parents talked about an uncertain future with worries about job security. The single parents we interviewed who had lost their jobs felt constrained applying for new roles by ongoing school and childcare closures, including when children were sent home to self-isolate.
  • Even as the economy reopened in summer and autumn 2020, single parents were still more likely to be away from their jobs, either because of the sort of work they do or due to ongoing disruptions to childcare.
  • The Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry reported that traditionally female-dominated work sectors had been hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and job vacancies in the service industries will remain depressed. 90% of single parents are women. The Committee Inquiry Report called for a review of childcare provision, including making this open to those who are job-seeking or retraining.
[1] Gingerbread (2021) What freedom day means for single parents
[2] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2020/21) UK Poverty, the leading independent report
[3] Gingerbread (2021) Caring without sharing Single parents’ journeys through the COVID-19 pandemic
[4] Drawn from our Caring without sharing Single parents’ journeys through the COVID-19 pandemic report, unless stated otherwise
[5] Family and Childcare Trust (2021), Childcare Survey 2021.
[6] Family and Childcare Trust (2020), Childcare Survey: early release on the impact of COVID-19 on childcare in England.

I'm stuck in a bit of a trap regarding work - because of spending most of her life in lockdown, she still struggles with strangers so childcare is hard - and expensive. I'm entitled to 80% back, but I have to find the money to pay for it all upfront first and so I can only afford one morning a week.

Gingerbread helpline caller

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