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Retain £20 Universal Credit lifeline and introduce four point plan to tackle single parent poverty after coronavirus
The Government has been urged to introduce a four-point plan to tackle single parent poverty after coronavirus – including retaining the £20 increase to Universal Credit – as new research shows the pandemic has hit single parent families hardest.
The research – carried out by Learning and Work Institute and Gingerbread, and supported by JRF – shows that single parents are more likely to have lost their jobs, lost hours, and been furloughed, and they are three times as likely to have had to rely on a food bank.
While the single parent employment rate had risen to a record high before the crisis, too many remained trapped in poverty. Single parents were nearly twice as likely to be stuck in low pay compared to a mother in a couple, and four times as likely to be in low pay compared to a father in a couple. Nearly half (44%) of children living in single parent families were in poverty before the crisis, compared to just one in four (26%) of those in two parent families.
The new analysis shows that single parents have suffered a ‘double impact’; they are more likely to have been working in the sectors and jobs that have been hit hardest, and they are more likely to have been impacted by the closure of schools and childcare. This has deepened pre-pandemic inequalities, and pushed more single parents and children into poverty:
Single parents are more likely to have lost their jobs, with nearly one in ten (9%) falling out of employment. One in three (34%) single parents have been furloughed, compared to just one in four (25%) coupled parents;
Single parents who remained in work saw the biggest decline in hours, with working hours shrinking by 7.6 hours on average;
Single parents are more likely to say they are finding it difficult to manage their finances (11%) and that they are behind with their bills (13%) than couples with children;
Single parent families were over three times as likely to have relied on food banks during the crisis, compared to families with children (7% compared to 2%).
Single parents are more pessimistic about their future, with one in five (18%) expecting their financial situation to get worse;
At last month’s spending review, the Chancellor set out measures to support people back into employment – including a new £2.9bn Restart scheme to tackle unemployment. However, he did not extend the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit, which ends in March. This will lead to 6 million households – including hundreds of thousands of single parents – losing £1,040 next year and an estimated 700,000 people – including 300,000 children – falling into poverty.
The researchers worked with single parents who have been impacted by the crisis to set out a four point plan to tackle lone parent poverty after coronavirus. It calls on government to;
Provide high quality employment and skills support for single parent families. The new Restart scheme must provide tailored advice and support, and focus on helping claimants into good jobs, and supporting progression;
Support the creation of high quality flexible and part time jobs, including through requiring jobs to be advertised as flexible by default, and conducting a review of public sector employment to promote flexible jobs;
Ensure our social security system provides effective support, including making the £20 increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits;
Invest in childcare support, including providing an up-front grant to prevent single parents falling into debt when they start work.
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute and author of the report, said;
The pandemic has exposed the flaws in our labour market and social security system, and it has deepened pre-existing inequalities. Single parent families were much more likely to be in poverty before the crisis, and the pandemic has hit them harder.
A key part of ‘building back better’ must be ensuring lower levels of poverty after the pandemic than before. We need a four-point plan to tackle lone parent poverty, with high quality employment and skills support, a drive to boost flexible job opportunities, stronger social security support, and more investment in childcare.
Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of policy & partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:
It is deeply concerning that the grip of poverty is tightening on single parent families. We know that many of these families are at greater risk of poverty and are often trapped on low incomes for longer. Now, without more targeted income, employment and childcare support for single parents, the pandemic risks making it even harder for them to make ends meet.
No economic recovery will be truly successful if single parents do not share in its success. We need good jobs which offer flexibility, more affordable childcare as well as tailored employment support and training which offers a path to a decent livelihood. It’s also crucial that the Government makes the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extends this lifeline to legacy benefits if we are to protect families from greater poverty and debt.
Victoria Benson, CEO at Gingerbread, said;
This new research provides a stark reminder of the devastating impacts the pandemic is having on single parent families. Even before the Crisis, single parent families were far more likely to be living in poverty compared to any other household type - despite record numbers in employment.
The pandemic has poured fuel onto the fire, forcing many single parents into an impossible balancing act of working and caring for their children without the formal and informal childcare support they would normally rely on to make work possible. Many have lost jobs and income as a result, putting them at even greater risk of poverty.
The Government must do more to support single parent families through the pandemic and beyond. Single parents must be better supported to stay in work, find new work or retrain to ensure that they can access quality, flexible and sustainable work for the long term. Alongside this, greater investment in childcare infrastructure is vital to ensure that single parents are not locked out of work altogether.
The research was funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty.