Benefits are a lifeline for many single parents, whether in work or not. Barriers to entering and progressing in work, high living costs and unpaid child maintenance all add to the financial strain on single parent families, which means state support is often vital.

Much of our focus is on Universal Credit, the Government’s flagship reform programme that aims to simplify and personalised the benefits system as well as encourage work.

In October 2018, the then Chancellor reversed the devastating cuts announced in 2015 that decimated the work allowance of Universal Credit. This is a significant concession that will see the work allowance increase by £1000 resulting in about £630 a year more in the pockets of many single parent households. The former Chancellor also announced extra investment in supporting people moving onto Universal Credit as the delayed roll-out continues.

These announcements are welcomed. But there is still more to do to secure changes to Universal Credit as well as wider reform to the welfare system. It is therefore disappointing that welfare policy did not feature more in the Chancellor’s September 2019 Spending Round – which despite pledging the largest public spending increase in over a decade – made no reference to reforming to the social security system.

In recent years, there has been a particular focus on out-of-work benefit cuts to reduce welfare spending and encourage people into work. However, most non-working single parents are out of work because they are caring for very young children, studying or unable to work.  They’re unfairly hit by cuts which bear no relation to their intention or ability to work.

  • Single parents face a higher risk of unfair sanctions – 62 per cent of formal challenges to single parent sanctions were successful, compared with 53 per cent of other challenges (i)
  • Benefit levels are capped.  Families with two or more children are no longer be able to claim some benefits (with some exemptions). Single parents make up the overwhelming majority of claimants affected by the benefit cap. More than two-thirds (73 per cent) of capped households are single parents at August 2018, and many of these capped households have pre-school aged children (at August 2018, 75% have a child under five). For many single parents, this policy is a ‘kick in the teeth’ for caring for their children post separation or bereavement (ii)
  • As of May 2019, there were 552,221 single parents in receipt of Universal Credit nationally, representing 30% of all households in receipt. This figure has increased steadily over time (iii)
  • Advance payments – a loan – are available to single parents and others moving onto Universal Credit. In the 2018 Budget, the government announced a cap on the maximum rate of repayment deductions from 40 per cent to 30 per cent, and an increase in the repayment period from 12 months to 16 months. However, the reason for taking out the loan and/or getting into debt is due to transitioning onto Universal Credit into the first place (iv)

Our position

Gingerbread supports the aim of simplifying the benefit system and ensuring work always pays through the introduction of Universal Credit, but we’re concerned that the government won’t deliver on these promises.

We believe the current welfare system focuses too much on pushing people into any job, leaving single parents exposed to poor quality, inflexible and unsustainable work. And regardless of employment status, state support should be sufficient for basic living costs and recognise the additional needs faced by single parents.

Our goals for change

Gingerbread wants to see a benefit system which is fit for purpose – one that is linked to financial and personal need, minimises sanctions, and genuinely makes work pay.

Universal Credit must be reformed to ensure financial security for families. You can read more here.

In particular, we are calling for:

  • An end to cuts that penalise single parent families. This includes reforming sanctions policy to introduce a genuine ‘yellow card’ system (where parents can receive a warning before it’s too late) and introducing exemptions to the benefit cap.
  • Improved personalised employment support – particularly improving access to higher level training courses and apprenticeships, to increase routes into more secure and longer term work.
  • A reduction in the 5 week wait for Universal Credit payment to 2 weeks.
  • An exemption for single parents of 0-2 year olds from the benefit cap when routes to enter employment to avoid the cap are most difficult.
  • An end to the benefit freeze.


i. Rabindrakumar, S. (2017) On the rise: single parent sanctions in numbers. London: Gingerbread.

ii. DWP (2017) Benefit cap: number of households capped to November 2017.

iii. DWP Stat-Xplore (2019) Households on Universal Credit.

iv. StepChange and Tussell Trust (2019) Hardship now or hardship later? 

Statistics last updated September 2019.

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