Gingerbread’s final report, “The Invisible Family: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on single parents living in London” shows that there are differences between the challenges single parents face at a local and national level.
Locality is a crucial but overlooked theme in much of the current research assessing the impact of the pandemic. And yet, particularly for single parents living in London, their commute, access to services, the support of their employer and the availability of local and flexible jobs, have all had a direct impact on their experiences of the pandemic (and will continue to do so).
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of childcare and mental wellbeing as social infrastructures.
It has led many single parents to believe that more people can relate with the struggles single parents face every day (not least challenges with employment and childcare), because of the pressures caused by successive lockdowns.
Single parents across London hope that this feeling can be mobilised and turned into positive actions for change for single parents at both a local and a national level. They do not want to be the ‘invisible family’ within the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, as they were in many Covid-19 policy decisions.
To track the impact of policy change and to gain a better understanding of how single parent experiences evolved throughout the pandemic, Gingerbread interviewed 42 single parents across London in November 2020 and in February 2022. We particularly wanted to explore the impact that the pandemic would have on single parent employment in London, building on previous research we conducted into the pre-pandemic experiences of single parents.
This longitudinal approach provided a way for Gingerbread to measure how government policies introduced at different stages of the pandemic affected single parents who live in different London boroughs. It meant that we could capture a snapshot of the lived experiences of single parents at various times during the pandemic and allowed us to explore the impact over time between reactive policy and those for whom it is introduced to help.
To map the scale of the impact of the pandemic on single parents, this research combines the qualitative research with a quantitative analysis of the government’s Labour Force Survey comparing the experiences of single and couple parents, both in London and nationally, from the quarter before the start of the pandemic (October-December 2019) to the final quarter of 2021 (October-December). This mixed method approach brings to the fore the complicated relationship between ‘identity’ and ‘experience’ in a local context.
As uncovered through Gingerbread’s nationally focussed research over the same time period, single parents collectively feel that they are an afterthought in policy making and government decisions. Or, as one of our interviewees succinctly put it, “we are the invisible family.”
To try to make the challenges of single parenthood more ‘visible’, and to better protect single parents who live in London following the Covid-19 pandemic, Gingerbread have identified several policy recommendations at a local and national level. These recommendations are divided into three policy areas identified by single parents as areas of concern in the qualitative interviews: employment, childcare and mental health.
- The GLA should prioritise single parents in their ‘Workforce Integration Network’, which launched in March 2022.
- Jobcentre Plus should use the expansion of work coach capacity to introduce specialist single parent advisers in London.
- JCP in London should work with local employment partnerships to develop local work in the boroughs.
- The current cap on the Childcare Element of Universal Credit needs to be higher in London.
- GLA’s childcare scheme needs to be expanded across London.
- More flexible childcare funding is needed to support more single parents to be able to access and afford childcare. We would like to see more innovative schemes made available to single parents in London, such as Islington council’s childcare bursary fund.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
- Local government and service providers need to recognise single parents as a priority group when accessing mental health services.
- More investment from national government is needed for specialist mental health care for children.
- Hunger has a significant impact on mental and physical wellbeing. We recommend that all London councils prioritise tackling food insecurity as a short and longer-term policy mission.