Gingerbread response on the impact of Covid-19 for Single Parent Families

The Covid-19 virus offers a particular challenge for single parents and their children as they rely on one income and are without the support of another adult in the household to balance childcare arrangements. Nationwide measures to limit the spread of the virus will put huge pressures on single parents when faced with the practicalities of self-isolation and school and childcare closure.

Gingerbread is calling on government and employers to provide extra help and support for single parents and their children at this challenging time.

Single parent households are:

  • Twice as likely as coupled households to live in poverty;
  • More likely than coupled households to be in a low paying insecure job including on a zero or a low hours contract;
  • More likely than couple parents to have to rely on the safety net of social security including the +775,000 single parent households who have transferred onto universal credit;
  • More likely than coupled households to live in a private rented sector home; and
  • More likely than couples to have to rely on formal childcare.

Within this context Gingerbread is calling on the Government to take urgent action to better protect the income and support for single parents and their children.

  • We are calling for those that lose their job or face a cut in hours to be given emergency financial support including access to Statutory Sick Pay and help with paying their rent.
  • Those single parents who can no longer work and move over to universal credit should be fast tracked for financial support including an emergency fund to support their children and to protect them from homelessness.
  • Single parents who are themselves self-isolating or who are looking after children who are self isolating must be financially supported.
  • Money given to local authorities to help those affected by the Covid-19 virus should target support to single parents and their children.
  • Those single parents who are currently unemployed should have the current rules about attending jobcentres for appointments relaxed – along similar lines to ESA and PIP appointments.

Employers could also play a valuable role in keeping single parents in employment during the Covid-19 crisis.  With schools and childcare closures in effect across the country for the majority of students.  Gingerbread are calling on employers to support single parents whose children might attend schools or childcare centre that are forced to close. Allowing single parents some flexibility in how they do their hours, including opportunities to work from home would be really valuable. Making single parents aware of any support that your organisation offers could be make a real difference at this time.

Specific measures needed to ensure single parent families can access vital financial support:

  • Despite the lockdown single parents who are claiming legacy benefits and universal credit (UC) are still expected to carry out their job seeking requirements, which are set out in their claimant commitment. This is unrealistic and unfair. With the added challenges of self-isolation and caring for children alone during school and childcare closures, job-seeking requirements for those already on legacy and universal credit should be suspended for single parents for at least the next three months.
  • In the last week there has been a huge surge in the number of claimants applying for universal credit (over half a million). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are currently struggling to cope with the increased demand. Single parents are being told that they will need to wait for many weeks even before their claim can be considered because they must first agree a claimant commitment (this is on top of the 5 week wait when the universal credit claim has been approved). The application for new claims for universal credit needs to be speeded up for all households with dependent children. The requirement to agree a claimant commitment before a universal credit claim can be agreed must be suspended for all parents with dependent children for the next three months.
  • 7:10 of all households impacted by the benefit cap are headed by a single parent. In order to escape the benefit cap a single parent with a dependent child living with them would need to move into a job or into cheaper accommodation – this is impossible during lockdown. This is a significant issue for single parents in London and the South East where rents are particularly high.Gingerbread is calling for the suspension of the benefit cap for the next three months.
  • It is a child’s right to be supported by both parents – this is particularly important during times of crisis when single parents’ finances become even more stretched. We recognise that COVID-19 will have a negative impact on both parents’ finances. For the parent with care, they are already facing the possibility of losing 20% of their income, whilst also having to come up with the extra costs associated with looking after children not attending school. It is crucial that these parents are not hit with a ‘triple penalty’ by having the maintenance payments they rely on to make ends meet taken away from them. Gingerbread is calling on the government to step in during this period to fill the shortfall for any CMS arrangements where the resident parent is not receiving maintenance to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Gingerbread is continuing to assess the impact on single parent families as the Covid-19 situation unfolds and we will update our recommendations in response to the latest developments.