UK Policy Briefings
Spring Budget 2022: Economic challenges for single mothers
Date Posted: Tuesday 8th March 2022
Single parents – 90% of whom are women – are both the breadwinner and the primary carer for their children. Caring responsibilities and the lack of societal childcare support 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 overwhelmingly a 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.
Even before 2022’s energy price rises, 25% of single parents said childcare costs had forced them to cut back on essential items such as food, heating, clothing and housing costs.
Single mothers are particularly reliant on paid childcare, and because of their relatively low pay and single household income they are badly affected by the cost: 40% of single parents report facing difficulties with childcare costs, compared with 26% of couple families. They will also be particularly badly impacted by post-pandemic retractions in childcare availability. Universal Credit support with childcare costs is paid in arrears while costs have to be paid upfront, and the cap on support is based on 2003 childcare cost levels. Even before 2022’s energy price rises, 25% of single parents said childcare costs had forced them to cut back on essential items such as food, heating, clothing and housing costs.
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. At the start of 2022, 67.7% of single parents were in employment, down from 70% pre-pandemic.
Gingerbread and the Women’s Budget Group are calling for: increased investment in the childcare infrastructure, improved support through social security, and the creation of good quality part-time work. Specific recommendations include:
- jobs to be advertised as flexible by default;
- the abolition of the Benefit Cap;
- uprated Local Housing Allowance to reflect local average rents;
- benefits to be increased in line with RPI/CPI;
- the extension of the 30-hour free childcare offer to more single parents in training;
- UC to cover childcare costs upfront;
- more realistic allowances for childcare costs under UC;
- better enforcement of child maintenance payments and the abolition of upfront fees;
- better training for CMS staff that recognises the high proportion of single parents who are survivors of domestic abuse.
In the longer term there should be sustained investment in a universal free childcare system, which would contribute to higher maternal employment among single mothers.