More single parents working yet poverty still rising, finds Gingerbread

By agency reporter
February 22, 2018

A new report, One in four: single parent families in the UK, has been released to mark 100 years of Gingerbread’s work.

The report profiles single parents in the UK today and how their lives have changed, finding that unsustainable work and poverty are two of the biggest issues facing the UK’s 1.7 million single parent families today.

Huge progress has been made over the past 100 years to improve single parent families’ lives, from the abolition of the workhouse in 1930 to the repeal of the Bastardy Acts in 1987. Despite this, and the fact that single parent employment rates are at a record high, a third of children with a working single parent today live in poverty.

Today’s report shows that over the past 20 years single parents and their children have faced around twice the risk of poverty compared to couple parents. This situation is set to worsen with 63 per cent of children in single parent families likely to be in poverty by 2021.

For single parents who are both the main earner and main carer, employment opportunities that pay a decent wage and offer the flexibility needed are few and far between. Single parents are more likely than the average employee to be trapped in low paid work. The pressure to take any job available can mean more insecure, rather than sustainable, work.

The research found that the number of single parents on zero-hours contracts has increased tenfold over the past ten years, with over 40,000 single parents employed this way. Additionally, many single parents have been forced to turn to often low-paying self-employment as there is no suitable work available. There has been a 58 per cent rise in the number of self-employed single parents in the past decade – with nearly 60,000 more single parents now self-employed compared to 2007. The research also shows that some single parents have been encouraged into unsustainable self-employment by jobcentre advisers in a bid to get them into work.

Commenting on the report, Rosie Ferguson, Gingerbread’s Chief Executive, said, “The findings of this report illustrate how single parents’ aspirations can be thwarted by circumstances outside their control. The majority of single parents work but many are still locked out of the secure, flexible employment opportunities they need in order to provide for their children.  Low-paid and insecure jobs, as well as the lack of affordable childcare, mean that some single parents struggle to put food on the table for their children.

“The government must work with jobcentres, employers and childcare providers to ensure that work genuinely provides a route out of poverty. We need to strengthen the system of support for single parents to provide a decent standard of living for them and their children.”

Gingerbread is calling on the government to:

  • Suspend job-seeking conditions for single parents with pre-school aged children and single parents in training, to avoid pushing single parents into unsustainable work
  • Tailor jobcentre support for single parents and invest in higher levels of training and education, which lead to more sustainable work and long-term savings for the government
  • Work with employers to embed a genuinely family-friendly labour market, including improving the availability of good quality part-time and flexible jobs
  • Expand promised childcare support to target assistance on low income families effectively, including widening access to the 30 hours’ free childcare to single parents in education/training and in variable-hours work, and supporting parents with the upfront cost of childcare.

Rosie Ferguson continued, “As we mark 100 years of Gingerbread, we are proud of everything that has been achieved to improve single parents’ lives. But it’s not right that we still live in a society where children of single parents face twice the risk of poverty compared to those from couple families.

“Gingerbread will continue to support single parents and celebrate their many contributions to the UK today. We need others to commit to real change too. We want to see single parents valued and given the same opportunities as any other family. The tide is turning, but there is much more to do.”

* Read a summary and download the full report One in four: a profile of single parent families in the UK here

* Gingerbread https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.