Single mothers just as good as couples – the problem is poverty

23 July 2014

Poverty has a more detrimental effect on young children than lone parenthood

According to a new survey a growing number of single parents struggling not only with stigma but also to make ends meet, despite having a job. A study by the charity Gingerbread, as part of its Paying the Price project(*), suggests that 67% of lone parent families are constantly struggling with their finances, and that one in 10 are not coping at all.

Describing its results as “grim”, the group said the push towards flexible working was acting against single parents, with 56% reporting that they cannot get work at all and others unable to work the hours they need to meet their living costs.

The survey, of 2,486 lone mothers and fathers earlier this year, found 75% had been hit by welfare cuts and 39%, were in low-paid jobs – compared with 21% of all workers nationally. The most recent government figures, for 2011-2012, show that the average employment income for single-parent households was £110 a week, compared with £390 for all UK households.

There are also concerns that more single parents have been forced to become self-employed – 20% compared with 15% of non-lone parents – with indications that they are paid less than employed people.

There is a palpable sense of growing insecurity with temporary and zero-hour contracts, but all they hear is that they must be benefit scroungers, but 23% of working single parents who want to work more hours can’t get them.”

The results come as new research contradicts the idea that children suffer in cognitive terms from being brought up by single mothers. A study for the Economic and Social Research Council by Dr Susan Harkness of the University of Bath found children’s development was “little affected” by their family structure.

Although numbers of lone parents have increased rapidly, with one in three children born in 2000 having spent some time living with a single mother by the age of 11, once socio-economic differences were factored out, these children did just as well.

Less than half of single mothers receive any maintenance payment from the absent parent, and that the legal costs of chasing payments too prohibitive for many.

Child poverty in working single-parent families has increased in the past couple of years – more than one in five (22%) of children in families where single parents work full-time are now in poverty, and this rises to 30%, where single parents work part-time. A quarter of working single parents also reported a reduction in wages by their employer in the last six months.

Extracts from a longer article at

    (*) Paying the price: Single parents in the age of austerity

    At Gingerbread, we know single parents do a fantastic job. We also know the recession and changes to taxes, benefits and public services are making life more and more difficult for many single parent families. While some claim ‘we’re all in this together’, there are growing concerns that single parent families are bearing the brunt of these changes.

    With funding from Trust for London and the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Gingerbread is undertaking a three-year research project to look at how single parent families are faring during the ‘age of austerity’. You can read more about our project aims and research methods on our About the project page.
    Latest findings

    The long road to recovery (published 21st July 2014), the third report in this series, focuses on single parents’ experiences of working and finding work in today’s labour market. The headline findings show that single parents are facing:
    * A high risk of low pay, as well as increasing under-employment and job insecurity
    * Strong competition for the few jobs which allow them to juggle childcare duties
    * Pressure to take any job regardless of job insecurity and limited chance of pay or job progression

    While single parents are doing all they can to get into the workplace, and working long hours and multiple jobs, our report shows that a job alone is no longer enough to make ends meet. Action is urgently needed to ensure single parents can earn an adequate income to support their families – particularly if the government wants to reduce welfare expenditure in the long term.

    We want to see:
    * Stronger support for single parents who are increasing their working hours
    * The quicker introduction of increased support for childcare costs
    * Prioritised investment in skills- and training-focused employment support
    * Low pay, job insecurity and the lack of family-friendly working tackled, in partnership with employers



    Full Report

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