Single parents twice as likely to be unemployed than coupled parents, research finds

Experts say offering ‘greater control and flexibility’ could help more people participate in work

Single parents are almost twice as likely to end up unemployed or underemployed than parents who are part of a couple, research has found.

A report from charity Gingerbread found that between July and September 2021, unemployment among single parents stood at 5 per cent, whereas just 3 per cent of coupled parents were unemployed.

During the same period, nearly a third (30 per cent) of single parents were economically inactive – meaning they were not in work and not looking for work – compared to just 15 per cent of coupled parents.

Just 64 per cent of single parents were in employment during this period, compared to 83 per cent of coupled parents.

Single parents were also more likely to be underemployed than their coupled counterparts; more than one in seven (15 per cent) single parents surveyed for the report said they were not working as many hours as they would like, compared to around one in 12 (8 per cent) coupled parents.

The report said the lack of support in getting back to work; the high cost of childcare; and a lack of flexible working opportunities were the key factors preventing single parents from moving into sustainable work.

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While jobcentre support has been available throughout the pandemic, the majority of single parents surveyed said there was a lack of targeted support, with data suggesting that single parents were less likely than parents who were part of a couple to have had their individual circumstances considered by their work coach.

Many single parents also admitted being worried about the feasibility of obtaining flexible working from day one with a new employer, because with previous employers flexibility was often something that needed to be built up over a long period.

Commenting on the findings, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, said every employer should be aiming to create an inclusive and diverse workforce.

“Finding flexible arrangements that work for both the organisation and individuals will empower people to have greater control and flexibility in their working life and could boost people’s participation at work,” she said.

At the same time, the report found a significant number of single parents were leaving their roles because of factors relating to their caring responsibilities.

Of the single parents that left work in 2021, more than a third did so for “family or personal reasons”, compared to 30 per cent of coupled parents and just 15 per cent of the general working-age population.

During the pandemic, single parents were also more likely to face compulsory redundancy or leave their role because a loss of working hours meant their job made it financially unsustainable to stay in work, the report said.

McCartney said with the cost of living increasing, employers could improve the financial security of their workforce by paying a “fair and living wage”. She also suggested employers offer financial wellbeing support, which could include “offering and signposting benefits and encouraging people to be open about any concerns they might have.”

The report suggested creating targeted back to work support, offering flexible work opportunities and creating more opportunities for single parents to retrain could help more single parents back into work.

It also called for a national childcare grant scheme to help low-income parents secure the upfront costs of childcare fees, something that was identified as an obstacle to work.