Half of parents with young children ‘struggling to make ends meet’

Date Posted: Thursday 7th May 2020

Covid-19equalitySocial Security

43% have ‘nearly run out of money’, majority facing more debt

Women keyworkers significantly more anxious and under pressure to work

UK anxiety levels rising

New research published today reveals the stark reality of the coronavirus pandemic for parents and keyworkers. The research, carried out by gender equality charity the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Budget Group, and academic experts from the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London and the London School of Economics (LSE) shows that 51% of parents with young children will struggle to make ends meet in the next three months, and 57% face higher levels of debt after the crisis.

It also finds that women who are working outside the home are more likely to be keyworkers, with six in ten (61%) compared with four in ten (43%) men saying their work is essential at this time. Women who are still going outside to work are:

  • More likely to say they are working harder than before;
  • More likely to say they have to continue going out to work because they cannot afford to stay at home;
  • Twice as likely as men to say they feel under pressure from their employer to continue going out to work.

They also report some of the greatest levels of anxiety. 56% of women who say their work is essential report high anxiety levels, compared with 30% of men in that group.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s wellbeing is significant.  Women’s and men’s satisfaction with life has fallen dramatically, by more than half (from 32% to 12%) for women and down from 29% to 15% for men.  One third (36%) of women are reporting high levels of anxiety compared with a quarter (27%) of men.

Mothers of young children are among the most anxious.  Nearly half (46%) of mothers of under-11s report anxiety above a 7 on a scale of 0 – 10, compared with 36% of fathers. This compares with 32% of women and 24% of men who are not parents of young children.

Commenting, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, Sam Smethers said:

“The impact of this crisis on our wellbeing is significant and profound. But women are hit harder than men in terms of their financial security and mental wellbeing.  Parents of young children and key workers are experiencing anxiety about the virus, huge money worries and work pressures.

“The Government needs to step in to provide additional financial support for parents and ensure decent pay and conditions for key workers too, who themselves also more likely to be parents.  A significant increase in child benefit of £50 per week per child and setting pay for all keyworkers at real living wage levels would make a real difference. Government could do this now.”

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group added:

“COVID-19 has magnified existing inequalities. Before this crisis women were more likely to be low paid, more likely to be poor and more likely to get into debt to buy basic necessities. Many of the workers on which we now depend are low paid, on insecure contracts and only entitled to statutory sick pay.

The Government has shown unprecedented agility within the social security system so far, but it needs to do more to meet urgent needs in the short term and to make sure that this crisis doesn’t further widen pre-existing inequalities.”

Professor Sophie Harman, global health politics expert at Queen Mary University of London noted:

“We know health emergencies have harder immediate and long-term impacts on women than men and that such emergencies exacerbate inequalities within society. COVID-19 is no different. The needs of women and their economic and social well-being must be a key factor in every level of decision—making around COVID-19.

The government needs far greater inclusion of women and gender experts in key advisory groups to assess and address the differential impacts of their decision-making on COVID-19 on women.”

Dr Clare Wenham, Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy, London School of Economics:

“Parents are worried about coming out of COVID-19 in debt. The government needs to recognise this and take measures to support parents, such as an increase in child benefit. We also need to acknowledge the mental toll financial worries have on parents, on top of everything else these parents are doing – home schooling, increased domestic chores, as well as trying to keep up with their own paid work.

In many ways these concerns about finances are no different to what we have seen in Ebola and Zika, with the financial toll of outbreaks falling at parents’ feet, but with this knowledge we can start to prepare strategies to mitigate the longer-term socio-economic impacts within society.”

 Key findings – parents:

Parents are twice as likely as those without children to say they will struggle to make ends meet in the next three months, with 51% of parents of under-11s agreeing compared with 27% of those who are not parents of young children. This rises to 56% for single parents, 35% of whom strongly agree.

They are more than twice as likely to say their household has nearly run out of money, with 43% of parents of young children saying their household has nearly run out of money at the moment compared with 18% of other respondents

Half (48%) of parents of young children say they are worried about how they will pay their rent or mortgage, compared with 20% of other respondents.

Over half of parents of young children expect to be in greater debt after the coronavirus crisis 57% of parents of under-11s say that they believe they will come out of the outbreak in more debt than before, compared with 24% of women and 27% of men without young children.

Fears about debt are hitting women key workers harder than men, with 43% of all women working outside the home agreeing compared with 32% of men.

 Key Findings – keyworkers

Women who are still working outside the home are more likely to report that they are key workers, with 61% of women compared with 43% of men saying that they need to keep working outside because their work is essential at this time.

Women are twice as likely as men to feel pressure from their employer to do so. 32% of women compared with 15% of men say their employer is pressuring them to continue to work outside the home.

Over half cannot afford to stay at home. 57% of women working outside the home say that they have to continue to do so because they cannot afford to stay at home, compared with 34% of men. Among people working outside the home who define their work as essential, 72% of women and 48% of men agree with this.

Women frontline workers are working harder. Women working outside also have a greater workload, with 41% compared with 28% of men saying they have additional workload due to Coronavirus.

Women more likely to say they are proud of their work. 65% of women compared with 45% of men in this group also say that they are proud that their work is making a difference to others at this time.

Key findings – anxiety and wellbeing:

Satisfaction levels have plummeted – usually 29% of men and 32% of women are highly satisfied with life.[1] This has fallen dramatically to 15% of men and 12% of women.

Happiness has dropped by half for men and two thirds for women – 34% of men and 37% of women usually report very high ratings of happiness yesterday – this has fallen to 15% of men and 11% of women.

Those reporting low anxiety have fallen significantly – Usually 43% of men and 39% of women record low anxiety – we found 25% for men and 17% for women. A third of women compared with a quarter of men are highly anxious (8 or above on a 0-10 scale)

Women are more likely to report the highest levels of anxiety, with 36% of women compared with 27% of men reporting above a 7 on a 0-10 scale. 46% of mothers of younger children report anxiety above a 7 compared with 36% of men, and 32% of women and 24% of men who are not parents of young children.

Women on the frontline report some of the greatest levels of anxiety. 56% of those who are working outside the home report anxiety levels of 7 or more, compared with 30% of men in that group, with the same figures true for the group of these women and men who say their work is essential. Men working from home report higher levels, at 46% above a 7 compared with 32% of women.

Calls to action

  • Increase child benefit by an additional £50 per week per child and extend it to all children.
  • Pay all key workers at Real Living Wage levels.
  • Increase the Local Housing Allowance to average rents (the 50th percentile) to properly support housing costs for people who need Government support
  • Lift the benefit cap and two-child limit to ensure parents have sufficient income during the crisis


Notes to editors

 The data

The survey was conducted by Survation on behalf of the Fawcett Society via online panel, with fieldwork conducted 15 – 21 April 2020. Invitations to complete surveys were sent out to members of online panels. Differential response rates from different demographic groups were taken into account.

The sample size was 1,783. Data were weighted to the profile of all adults in the UK aged 18+. Data were weighted by age, sex, region, household income, education and 2019 general election vote. Targets for the weighted data were derived from Office for National Statistics Data and the results of the 2019 UK general election.

Because only a sample of the full population was interviewed, all results are subject to margin of error, meaning that not all differences are statistically significant. For example, in a question where 50% (the worst-case scenario as far as margin of error is concerned) gave a particular answer, with a sample of 1783 it is 95% certain that the ‘true’ value will fall within the range of 2.3% from the sample result. Subsamples from the cross-breaks will be subject to higher margin of error, conclusions drawn from crossbreaks with very small sub-samples should be treated with caution.

Data tables accompanying this release will be available at: https://www.survation.com/archive/

Asks of Government

The Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group are signatories alongside over 80 organisations of a joint list or asks from the women’s sector, across nine different areas from women in prison to the impact on parents: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/news/coronavirus-urgent-call-for-uk-government-to-support-women-and-girls

About us

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. Our vision is a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential creating a stronger, happier, better future for us all.

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent network of leading academic researchers, policy experts and campaigners that analyses economic policy for its impact on women and men and promotes alternatives for a gender equal economy. Our work on Covid-19 can be accessed at: https://wbg.org.uk/topics/covid-19/

Queen Mary University of London is a research-intensive university that connects minds worldwide.  A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our world-leading research. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We have over 25,000 students and offer more than 240-degree programmes. Our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with silver in the most recent Teaching Excellence Framework. Queen Mary has a proud and distinctive history built on four historic institutions stretching back to 1785 and beyond. Common to each of these institutions – the London Hospital Medical College, St Bartholomew’s Medical College, Westfield College and Queen Mary College – was the vision to provide hope and opportunity for the less privileged or otherwise under-represented. Today, Queen Mary University of London remains true to that belief in opening the doors of opportunity for anyone with the potential to succeed and helping to build a future we can all be proud of.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) studies the social sciences in their broadest sense, with an academic profile spanning a wide range of disciplines, from economics, politics and law, to sociology, information systems and accounting and finance.The School has an outstanding reputation for academic excellence and is one of the most international universities in the world. Its study of social, economic and political problems focuses on the different perspectives and experiences of most countries. From its foundation LSE has aimed to be a laboratory of the social sciences, a place where ideas are developed, analysed, evaluated and disseminated around the globe.