Single parents’ finances are often tight. Single parent families face a particularly high risk of poverty compared with other households. High living costs – particularly rent and utility bills – play a part. Limits to single parents’ incomes are another major factor – especially barriers to enter and progress in work and the disproportionate impact of welfare reform. Many single parents also do not receive child maintenance from their child’s other parent, while some parents receive some, but not all, of their child maintenance payments.

Our research shows that single parents are often only just managing to make ends meet. As a result, many single parents have no choice but to borrow from friends and family, or financial lenders. The financially precarious position of many single parent families also means that many aren’t able to save as they would wish – either for household expenses or for a pension. This insecurity can also take an emotional toll on single parents.

  • Lone parents have the highest poverty rate among working-age adults, with 43% living in poverty (i)
  • Child Benefit, or its UC equivalent, provides just 15.7% of the overall cost of a child for single parent families (ii)
  • In 2017, single parents had the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty of all households (25.4%). For couple parents, the figure was around 15% (iii)

Our position

Single parents’ financial difficulties are due to a lack of income – whether barriers to work, unpaid child maintenance or insufficient state support – and high cost of living, rather than financial management.

Better support is needed to enable single parents to be financially secure – in order to provide a decent standard of living for their families, as well as ensure parents’ broader well-being.

Our goals for change

Gingerbread wants to see a benefit system which is fit for purpose – one that is linked to financial need, minimises the use of benefit limits or suspensions and genuinely makes work pay. In particular, universal credit must be reformed to ensure financial security for families.

Action is needed from skills/training providers and employers to embed family-friendly practices, including adequate pay and flexible working, to make sure work is accessible and sustainable for single parents.

Both the government and financial providers also have a role to play in tackling debt prevention or families on a low income. This includes addressing the ‘poverty premium’ and limited access to affordable credit for those in financial hardship.


i. Joseph Roundtree Foundation (2020) UK Poverty 2019/20: a comprehensive analysis of poverty trends and figures.

ii. Child Poverty Access Group (2019) The cost of a child in 2019.

iii. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2019) Annual fuel poverty statistics report: 2019. 

Statistics last updated October 2020.

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