UK Policy Briefings
Autumn Budget 2021: Economic challenges for single mothers
Date Posted: Tuesday 26th October 2021
This is a joint briefing from Women’s Budget Group and Gingerbread
“Single parents – 90% of whom are women – are both the breadwinner and the primary carer for their children. Caring responsibilities are at the core of single mothers’ economic struggle.”
Nearly a quarter of families with dependent children are headed by a single parent and single parenthood is an overwhelmingly female experience: nine in ten single parents are mothers.
Caring responsibilities are at the core of single mothers’ economic struggle; they must somehow be both breadwinners and primary carers. Because of their caring responsibilities and their need to be available for their children, they are more likely to be in part time work (which has lower rates of pay) and in low paid work. Mothers in couple households earn twice as much as single mothers. Child maintenance payments from ex-partners are poorly enforced, driving down single mothers’ household income still further.
“Universal Credit support with childcare costs is inadequate because it is paid in arrears while costs have to be paid upfront, and the cap on support is based on 2003 childcare cost levels.”
Single mothers are particularly reliant on paid childcare, because they do not have a co-parent with whom to share caring responsibilities. Because of their relatively low pay and single household income they are specifically affected by the expense of formal childcare in the UK, which is among the most expensive in the OECD. 40% of single parents report facing difficulties with childcare costs, compared with 26% of couple families. Universal Credit support with childcare costs is inadequate because it is paid in arrears while costs have to be paid upfront, and the cap on support is based on 2003 childcare cost levels.
Covid hit single parents hard. Some of the sectors most affected by the pandemic (high street retail, hospitality) employ disproportionate numbers of single parents, who are also less likely to work in jobs that can be done from home. Individual amounts of Child Maintenance decreased during the pandemic, while foodbank use and debt levels in single parent families soared.
Gingerbread and the Women’s Budget Group are calling for: proper financial support for childcare costs, provided through the social security system; and sustained investment in universal free childcare, which would contribute to higher maternal employment among single mothers.