Single parent families often deal with many challenges. Children in single parent families face around twice the risk of poverty as those in couple parent families. Single parent households are particularly affected by employment barriers and welfare reform.

Managing family life as a single parent can be difficult at times. Coming to terms with a divorce, break-up or bereavement can affect both single parents’ and children’s well-being. When parents split up, children are more likely to thrive if they have a good quality relationship with both parents – provided it is safe and both parents want to be involved.

Being the main carer is often not just financially or practically difficult, but it can also take an emotional toll on single parents. And despite progress, single parents still tell us they experience social stigma and stereotyping – from the general public and service providers, as well as the media and politicians.

  • The proportion of families with children headed by single parents has remained at around 25 per cent for over a decade – the figure currently stands at 22.7% (i)
  • On average, there are fewer children in single parent families than couple parent families: over half (54.5%) of single parent families have only one child (ii)
  • Research shows that single parents face a particular risk of loneliness (iii)
  • On average, single parenthood lasts around five years (iv)

Our position

Single parents are part of mainstream family life, yet this is not fully recognised by policymakers, employers and businesses.

Single parents do a great job. There’s little evidence that family structure itself affects child outcomes. Parental conflict, rather than partnership status, is damaging for children. Money also matters for children’s well-being, particularly those in financial hardship.

Gingerbread supports collaborative parenting, when this is possible – it’s normally in the best interests of children that they are raised by both parents, whether or not they live together.

For the small minority (circa 10 per cent) of contact arrangements made in court, we believe it is vital to retain the principle of making decisions based first and foremost on the child’s best interests.

Our goals for change

Gingerbread wants to see families of all types valued and treated equally and fairly. Single parents should be able to make the same choices and access the same support as other parents, covering everything from work and study, to discounted energy tariffs and family deals.

We want to see genuinely family-friendly government policy which supports, rather than penalises single parent families. This includes proper investment in relationship support across family types.


i. ONS (2019) Families and households.Table 1.

ii. ONS (2019)Families and Households. Statistical Brief, Section 4.

iii. Mental Health Foundation (2010) The Lonely Society.

iv. Skew, A., et al. (2008) Leaving lone parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the UK.

Statistics last updated September 2019

You might also be interested in: