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Caring without sharing: the Covid-19 Crisis has created unique challenges for working single parents which the government needs to address

Gingerbread’s Laura Dewar (Policy and Research)
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New research published today by @Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies (@EmploymtStudies) highlights unique challenges for working single parents including for those who will lose their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 Crisis. The report ‘Caring without sharing: single parents’ journeys through the Covid-19 crisis’ is by authored Elizabeth Clery, Laura Dewar and Dafni Papoutsaki.

As the country experiences a second Lockdown, and with growing unemployment and continued childcare restrictions, it is vital that the government provide better support to single parents.

Key statistical findings:

  • In early 2020 single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes than other family types – mothers in coupled households earned almost twice as much per week as single mothers;
  • Nearly half (46%) of single parents worked in routine occupations compared to coupled parents (26%).  Routine occupations in retail, hotels and restaurants have been particularly impacted by cuts to hours and job loses as a result of the Crisis;
  • Single parents are twice as likely to have a zero hours contract as other family types which puts them at greater risk of job insecurity as a result of the Crisis;
  • Whist the first lockdown saw an increase in those that could work from home this shift was less pronounced for single parents (22%) than coupled parents (35%); 
  • Single parents are more likely to have been furloughed (30%) compared to couple parents (21%) reflecting both single parents caring responsibilities but also that they are more likely to work in lockdown sectors that will experience further job losses; and
  • Single parents were twice as likely to have poor mental health, compared with other family types, immediately before and in the early stages of the Crisis. Overall 51% of single parents reported having depression, bad nerves or anxiety; compared with 27% of couple parents.

Key Findings from our interviews with single parents:

The single parents we interviewed were combining working with caring for their children, often with reduced or no support. Throughout the first Lockdown, this was commonly experienced as an ‘impossible balancing act’, with single parents making constant trade-offs between their work and caring responsibilities.

As restrictions eased in July, single parents perceived an uncertain future, with widespread concerns about job security and their ability to secure new work. Ongoing uncertainty around work requirements (including returns to the office and required hours) and childcare availability, both formal and informal, have made planning for the future impossible. It was widely felt by single parents felt that the unique challenges facing them had not been sufficiently accounted for in policy and guidelines developed in response to the Crisis.

As the country progresses through a second Lockdown, many of the challenges faced by single parents remain. The Government needs to act fast in supporting single parents to stay in work, find new work or retrain.

Report Recommendations

Support single parents to stay in work

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  • Extension of the furlough scheme is welcome. However, currently it is up to employers to decide whether a staff member can be part of scheme.  This needs to change so that single parents can access the scheme including where they need to do so for their caring responsibilities, when a child needs to isolate.
  • In the meantime the Test and Trace Isolation Grant must be made available to parents on low incomes who cannot work when their children are sent home from childcare or school to self-isolate.

Support single parents to get back to work

  • Targeted support for single parents who lost their job during the COVID-19 Crisis including making them a priority group in the new JETS back to work programme. Jobcentre Plus should use the expansion of work coach capacity to reintroduce specialist single parent advisers.

Support to retrain

  • There should be a greater emphasis in the back-to-work offer for single parents to improve their skills. The new Lifetime Skills Guarantee is welcome but must reflect the needs of single parents including access to courses with free childcare through Universal Credit.

Gingerbread’s Laura Dewar (Policy and Research) commented that:

“Single parents have been hit hard by the COVID-19 Crisis. Our research has shown that during the previous Lockdown single parents faced ‘an impossible balancing act’. As the sole breadwinner and carer single parents having a job is vital for their family income and the financial security of their children. The government must to do more to support single parent families as we start the second Lockdown.  Single parents must be better supported to stay in work, find new work or re-train.”


Gingerbread undertook qualitative interviews with 40 single parents who were in work at the start of the Covid-19 Crisis but were not defined as ‘critical workers’, giving them access to key worker education and childcare. The interviews explored their experiences of working and caring during Lockdown and their hopes and fears for the future. The names of the single parents who feature in the case studies have been changed. Gingerbread will be re-interviewing the single parents in early 2021, in order to follow the subsequent stages of their journeys through the Crisis and to develop updated recommendations for government and others.

The Institute for Employment Studies undertook analysis of Labour Force Survey (LFS) data to explore the work characteristics of single parents at the start of the Crisis and how these evolve over time (including employment rates, involvement in flexible and home working, transfer to and from the Job Retention Scheme).

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