Single parents at risk of being left out of post-pandemic recovery, charity warns

Report finds lack of childcare and flexible working options could make it harder for lone parents to stay in work or retrain

Single parents are at risk of being left behind by the post-pandemic recovery without sufficient flexible working provisions and adequate childcare, a charity has warned.

A report by Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies said single parents had been one of the groups most affected by lockdown restrictions and needed to be supported and not pressured to return to work.

It said single parents – 90 per cent of whom are women – were more likely than couple parents to be furloughed (30 and 21 per cent respectively), and far more likely to be working in sectors that have been hardest hit by lockdown restrictions, including hospitality and retail (46 and 26 per cent respectively).

Not only does this put single parents at greater risk of redundancy when the furlough scheme comes to an end, but the additional challenges faced by lone parents during lockdown, including balancing childcare and work responsibilities while in isolation, could continue even after lockdown measures are lifted. This, the report said, could make it harder for single parents to either stay in work or retrain.

Additionally, the requirement to self-isolate if someone in their child’s school ‘bubble’ tests positive for Covid is also likely to remain in place for some time, while the availability of childcare – including ‘wraparound’ childcare before and after school – is likely to become more restricted.

Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, said it was clear many single parents were “already in a precarious position”. “Single parents have much less flexibility than couple parents, limited access to quality jobs and significantly lower household incomes,” she said.

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“Before the pandemic nearly 70 per cent of single parents were in work and yet many were still living in poverty. The pandemic is widening the gulf and alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.”

Benson called on the government to do more to support single parents’ access to well-paid work, including passing legislation to make flexible working the default and improving childcare provisions, warning that failing to do so would see more children living in poverty.

The report added that employers were not required to wait for legislation before they improved their flexible working offering. A lack of suitable part-time or flexible job roles was a “constant theme” for single parents, it said and, by providing arrangements such as job shares, employers were more likely to retain staff who were single parents.

Rebecca Graham, programme manager at Standard Life Foundation, which supported the report, said both Covid-19 and the government’s response to it had “often failed to benefit single parent families in terms of their working arrangements, their finances and their mental health”.

“At a time when there is increasing optimism around coming out of lockdown and potential returns to offices, it is absolutely vital that employers and government recognise the needs of single parent families and return to something better than the normal that existed before,” she said.