At Gingerbread, we know that debt is a big issue for many single parents. Our helpline team takes lots of calls on money issues and we regularly hear of the wide-reaching effects of debt on single parent families.
We also know that people end up in debt for lots of different reasons – many of these are beyond and individual’s control, such as illness, unemployment, unaffordable childcare or separating from a partner.
Worryingly, it seems that debt is an ever-growing issue across the UK. StepChange, the debt charity, has today released statistics which show a record number of people have contacted them for help and advice in the first six months of this year. The figures also show that the average level of unsecured personal debt was £13,799, with around a third (31%) of new clients having outgoings above the level of their incomes – the average monthly shortfall for clients with deficit budgets is an alarming £365.
Unfortunately, the picture is even worse for single parents. StepChange says:
“Single parents remain alarmingly over-represented among our clients compared to the general population. One quarter of new clients (24%) are single parents, a proportion which has also been steadily rising over the past few years; in 2014, 18% of new clients were single parents. More than 85% of our single parent clients are women.”
These increases are worrying – adding to the weight of evidence highlighting a need for action, following Gingerbread’s survey of the financial circumstances, attitudes and experiences of more than 1,000 single parents, which showed that almost half (46%) of single parents worry “a great deal” about their financial circumstance.
The Government needs to not only listen to these alarm bells but to take action to protect people living on a financial knife edge and to help stop more people falling into debt.
As a result of this report, Gingerbread is renewing its call on the Government to better support single parent families – particularly those who are on or will be on Universal Credit. For many years single parents have been disproportionately hit by Government cuts. Small steps have been taken to improve this with the work allowance changes in the last budget but this isn’t enough. Critically, we need to see a reduction in the five week wait for the first payment under Universal Credit.
We are also pleased to be working in partnership with StepChange on a new research project to identify what more can be done to help single parents to protect themselves and their children from falling into debt and facing the significant challenges that this brings.