Single parent families have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic. Urgent action is needed to protect single parents and their children during the crisis and beyond.

COVID-19: Supporting single parent families through the crisis


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, single parents have found themselves disproportionately impacted by nationwide measures to limit the spread of the virus.

The pandemic presents a particular challenge for single parents, as they rely on just one income to support their family and are without another adult in the household to balance childcare arrangements.

As the pandemic has progressed, there has been little consideration of the financial, practical or emotional impacts of the crisis on single parents and their children.  Many have faced an impossible task of balancing their financial stability, with the practicalities of lockdown, isolation, school and childcare closures, home-schooling, increased living costs and the loss of their wider support networks.

Gingerbread has collaborated with partners in the voluntary sector and academic and research organisations to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on single parent families across the country. Our recent research includes:

  • Tackling single parent poverty after the coronavirus
    The report from the Learning and Work Institute and Gingerbread, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 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.

https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/publications-index/tackling-single-parent-poverty-after-coronavirus/

  • Caring without sharing: single parents’ journeys through the COVID-19 Crisis (interim report)
    The interim findings of research conducted by Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies highlight unique challenges faced by working single parents, including for those who will lose their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/publications-index/caring-without-sharing-interim/

Gingerbread is a collaborator on the COVID Realities research project, led by the Universities of York and Birmingham in partnership with the Child Poverty Action Group. The project is looking into the experiences of parents and carers on low incomes during the pandemic.

As the pandemic pressures – likely to be felt for years to come – continue to build, the impacts on single parent families will be devastating as more and more fall into poverty.


Urgent action is needed to better protect single parents and their children during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond


Gingerbread is calling on government, employers and businesses to consider the particular needs of single parents and to support single parent families during this challenging time. In particular, we are calling for:

  • Effective reform of the welfare system to support the most vulnerable families in the immediate- and longer-term;
  • Better access to financial support for single parents who have to take time off work to care for children sent home from school or childcare settings due to COVID-19;
  • Disruptions to the Child Maintenance Service due to COVID-19 should not unfairly impact single parents who rely on payments to survive;
  • Better support for the most vulnerable families to meet the additional costs of lockdown, self-isolation and children being out of school;
  • Access to flexible and affordable childcare to be prioritised for single parents who rely on a mix of childcare solutions in order to work and for whom access to both formal and informal childcare has been limited due to COVID-19;
  • Government, employers and businesses to ensure measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 do not unfairly discriminate against single parents.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Effective reform of the welfare system to support the most vulnerable families in the immediate and longer-term


Lift child benefit and suspend the benefit cap

Lift child benefit by £10 per week per child and suspend the benefit cap

Gingerbread supports the campaign led by CPAG and others in the voluntary sector to lift child benefit by £10 per child per week to help ease the financial pressure that families are facing during the COVID-19 crisis. However, we also need this increase to go hand-in-hand with the suspension of the benefit cap. The benefit cap includes child benefit and so, without its suspension, the most disadvantaged single parents and their children will not receive any extra money.

The benefit cap has a disproportionate impact on single parents and their children – 62% of households currently impacted by the benefit cap are headed by a single parent. During COVID-19, the amount of single parents impacted by the cap has almost doubled and most will find it impossible to move into work or cheaper accommodation during the crisis. It is simply not right for single parents to be trapped under the benefit cap, particularly when this means these families won’t see a single benefit to the increase in social security payments during the crisis. That is why we are supportive of Shelter’s campaign to suspend the benefit cap indefinitely.

Last updated: 16 April 2020.


Maintain the £20 uplift in UC and increase the benefit level for those on legacy benefits

Gingerbread called for a more generous level of Universal Credit (UC). The government listened and the standard allowance has increased by a £1,000 a year (£80 a month).  We continue to call for the government to maintain this £20 uplift in UC beyond April 2021 as the effects of the pandemic will be felt by the most vulnerable in our society for some time to come.  Alongside the uplift in UC Gingerbread is calling for the same increase in benefit level for those on legacy benefits.  Find out more about Gingerbread’s campaigning calls on the uplift to UC and legacy benefits here.

Last updated: 6 April 2020.


End the five-week wait for Universal Credit

There has been an enormous increase in the number of people who have started a claim for universal credit, with more than a million new claimants since the lockdown. At Gingerbread, we will be keeping a close eye on the increasing numbers of single parents who transfer to Universal Credit and their experience of receiving their first payments. We are part of a coalition of charities pushing for the five-week wait to be abolished and, in addition, are pressing for a faster process for single parents to receive their first Universal Credit payment.

Last updated: 16 April 2020. Back to top.


Suspend the sanctions regime

Gingerbread was pleased that our call to government to halt job-seeking requirements for single parents had been heard. From 30 March, all job-seeking requirements as part of benefit claims were halted for a period of three months.  However, with ongoing disruption to schools and childcare, a significant contraction in the jobs market as a result of the pandemic, and as we enter a second national lockdown, single parents who rely on benefits – and who are often further away from the job market due to the multiple complex challenges they face – will find it increasingly challenging to meet conditionality requirements. This will result in sanctions on their benefit claims and push them further into poverty.

Gingerbread is calling for a further suspension of job-seeking requirements during periods of national and local lockdown. In addition, single parents who have lost jobs or working hours and are unable to secure affordable and flexible childcare to suit their job-seeking needs should be offered the flexibility to suspend conditionality requirements and train for up to a year in order to secure sustainable employment for the long term.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Better access to financial support to for single parents who have to take time off work to care for children sent home from school or childcare facilities due to COVID-19


Government job retention scheme and furlough

The job retention scheme must not expose single parents to greater job insecurity in the longer term.

The government have announced that employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. This will include single parents who need to look after their children. At Gingerbread, we know that many single parents working from home will find it challenging to also provide care for and, potentially, home-school their children. It is therefore welcome that parents have the right to request to be furloughed in order to home-school their children. However, on it’s own, this right is not enough and it is crucial that employers grant the right to single parents to be furloughed if they request it in order to look after their children.

We are therefore calling for:

  • Greater flexibility within the furlough scheme for employees. Currently it is up to employers as to whether a staff member can be part of the scheme. This needs to change so that single parents can have better access to the scheme. Employers should be obliged to grant single parents access to the furlough scheme should they request it in order to home-school their children,.

We also want to make sure that the best interests of single parents are protected through the scheme and that it does not expose them to greater job insecurity in the longer-term. We are working with key organisations to monitor the scheme and the subsequent impacts on single parents.

While we broadly welcome the furlough scheme, we recognise that there are other ways that single parents might maintain their job and look after their children. We would encourage employers to think of flexibilities for single parents, including a short-term reduction in workload or support for parents to work their hours as flexibly as possible. In addition, the government might also want to look at other ways to support single parents, including making up the salary of those who cannot work their full-time hours while home-working during the crisis.

Last updated: 8 January 2021. Back to top.


Parent Isolation Grant


Ongoing disruption to school and childcare provision continues to put pressure on single parents, who often have no choice but to take time off work to look after children sent home from school or childcare settings due to COVID-19.

While the government’s extension of the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) will enable some parents to access financial support through requesting furlough, this is entirely at the discretion of employers. Where employers are unable or unwilling to offer this support, many single parents will be at risk of losing income or will be forced to stop working entirely.

In addition, single parents who have to take time off work when their children are required to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19, but who do not have symptoms, will have no entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay.

Financial support available to single parents who have to take time off work to care for children who are sent home from school or childcare settings is patchy and more clarity is needed. Alongside maternity and parenting rights organisation ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, Gingerbread is calling for the Government’s £500 Test and Trace Isolation Grant to be extended to parents in low-income households who have to take unpaid time off work when their children are sent home from school or childcare settings due to COVID-19.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Disruptions to the Child Maintenance Service due to COVID-19 should not unfairly impact single parents who rely on payments to survive


Child Maintenance

We are pleased to see the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) back up and running. Gingerbread has been piling on the pressure ever since the decision to run a reduced service during the height of the pandemic was taken and it is welcome to see the concerns of single parents being considered. However, it is not enough to go back to the old system, which saw over 100,000 children go without any maintenance payments – payments to which they are legally entitled.

That is why Gingerbread will continue to support a legal challenge against the CMS to ensure the system, which is designed to ensure children get the vital maintenance payments they need and deserve, is fit for purpose. Find out more about the #FixTheCMS campaign and how you can support it here.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Better support for the most vulnerable families to meet the additional costs of lockdown, self-isolation and children being out of school and childcare settings due to COVID-19


Local authority support

Support through local authorities should target single parents and their children.  With little in the way of financial support available to single parents who have lost income due to COVID-19, coupled with higher costs associated with lockdown, self-isolation and children being out of school and childcare settings, it is vital that money given to local authorities to help those affected by COVID-19 should target support to single parents and their children.


Free school meals and protecting the most vulnerable families from food poverty

Single parents with children who are entitled to free school meals should continue to receive this support throughout periods of national and local lockdowns.

The pandemic has seen a desperate squeeze on the incomes of many families across the country due to loss of work, coupled with an increase in day-to-day living costs.  As families are forced to stay at home for extended periods of time and children are sent home from school due to COVID-19 restrictions, the associated increases in food and utility costs are forcing many families to make tough financial choices in order to make ends meet.

Increasing numbers are relying on food banks to feed their families. Research by the Trussell Trust forecasts a 61% increase in food parcels needed across its UK network this winter, with families with children among the hardest-hit and single parent households most at risk of falling into destitution.

Alongside greater financial support for single parent households, support with the increasing costs associated with the pandemic is vital in order to ensure single parents and their children do not fall into poverty. That’s why Gingerbread has supported calls led by footballer Marcus Rashford for the free school meals provision to be extended to families during school holidays while the pandemic continues to impact the most vulnerable families financially.

In addition, during the first national lockdown, single parents shared their experiences of inconsistent access to Free School Meals provision, with some receiving supermarket vouchers, while others received food parcels and some received cash. At Gingerbread, we think that the most flexibility for single parents and their children will be to give them the cash amount so that they can have the opportunity to buy food in a range of supermarkets and other food outlets – and to enable others to shop on their behalf should they or their children be required to isolate.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Home-schooling during lockdown

Home-schooling poses particular challenges for single parents.

Without being able to share the load with the other parent, like couples can, single parents are  required to be sole breadwinner, teacher, parent and playmate all at the same time while schools are closed. This is stressful and exhausting for the single parent who will be trying their best to juggle too many competing interests.

In addition to this, single parents are more likely to suffer financially as a result of home-schooling. Our research has shown that single parents are more than twice as likely as couple parents to not have any ICT equipment in the household, making online learning impossible without significant expenditure. We therefore welcome the recent government guidelines, which state that  those children without required devices or those who are not able to engage with home learning should be taught in school with their parent’s permission.  We are also aware that many schools have invested in additional ICT equipment which they can lend to pupils who need it most.

It is crucial that parents are made aware of the support available to them and we therefore encourage single parents who are struggling with home-schooling to get in touch with their child/children’s school(s) to request the support that they need, be it through the provision of  resource and equipment or by asking the school to teach  their children in school.

Last updated: 8 January 2021. Back to top.


Access to flexible and affordable childcare must be prioritised for single parents who rely on a mix of childcare solutions in order to work


Funding for childcare infrastructure and long-term investment in the sector should be prioritised

A significant proportion of childcare providers are expected to face closure due to COVID-19. Due to the unequal impact of caring roles, this catastrophic loss of childcare provision will result in fewer mothers being able to return to work. This picture will be much worse for single parents (90% of whom are women), as they rely on a patchwork of formal and informal childcare to enable them to work. With families less willing to rely on elderly relatives for informal childcare due to the risks of COVID-19, the provision of formal childcare will become even more vital for single parent households.

Gingerbread supported a joint letter to the Prime Minister led by the Fawcett Society calling for funding for childcare infrastructure to be prioritised as lockdown is eased and for substantial long-term investment in the sector. 


Employers can play a vital role

Employers should allow single parents some flexibility in how they work during this time. With ongoing disruption to school and childcare provision across the country, it is becoming increasingly challenging for single parents to balance work alongside the requirement to care for children sent home from school or childcare settings due to COVID-19 – often unexpectedly and at very short notice.

In addition, COVID-19 has seen a reduction in the availability of childcare options for many working parents. Limited places at childcare settings due to closures and COVID restrictions and a reduction in wrap-around childcare provision, coupled with increased reluctance to rely on elderly relatives for informal childcare provision has left many single parents with no choice but to reduce their hours or even stop working entirely.

Employers can play a valuable role in keeping single parents in employment during the Covid-19 crisis.

Gingerbread is calling on employers to support single parents who are facing significant disruption to their usual childcare provision. Allowing single parents some flexibility in how they do their hours, including opportunities to work from home where possible, would be really valuable. Making single parents aware of any support that your organisation offers could make a real difference at this time.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


Government, employers and businesses to ensure measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 does not unfairly discriminate against single parents.


Guidance from businesses on changes that affect single parent families

Supermarket sole shopper guidance should consider single parents who need to take their children to the shops with them.

During the first national lockdown, a number of supermarkets introduced guidance that just one adult was permitted to shop for a household. Gingerbread heard from single parents who were concerned that this presented a practical difficulty as they parent and care on their own and need to shop with their children. Supermarkets have said that this is guidance and not a stated restriction for single parents. As a precaution, Gingerbread contacted the supermarkets concerned to be mindful that one in four families are headed by a single parent and that, as such, they may need to bring their child or children with them when they shop. As we enter a second national lockdown, and with ongoing uncertainty around the need for future national or local lockdowns, we are asking businesses to ensure that their guidance reflects the circumstances of these families and this must be communicated to store managers.

Last updated: 21 December 2020. Back to top.


About single parent households

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 1,035,165 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, employers and businesses to take urgent action to better protect the income of single parent households and provide adequate support for single parents and their children.

Back to top.