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'Single parents more likely to experience problem debt and live in persistent poverty'

New report from Gingerbread

Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, and StepChange, the UK's leading debt charity, have published a new report - The Single Parent Debt Trap - which shows the UK's 2 million single parents are more likely than any other sector of society to be living with problem debt.

Eighty-two per cent of single parents said that not having enough income to meet living costs meant they were forced to borrow money and ended up in debt. The research also showed that single parents were unable to work their way out of debt.

Counter-intuitively, those who worked full-time hours were more likely to be in problem debt, with increased childcare costs being the main reason for this. Single parents were more likely to use credit to pay for childcare the more hours they worked: 25 per cent of those working full-time (35 hours or more) paid for childcare by using credit, compared to 17 per cent of those working part-time (16-24 hours).

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread said:

"Before the pandemic around 70 per cent of single parents were in work but this didn't protect them or their children from poverty. It's shocking that in 2021 so many are forced to go hungry in order to repay debts built up as their income doesn't even cover basic living costs.

"It's crucial that the Government protects low-income families from further poverty by maintaining the £20 uplift to Universal Credit beyond April 2021 and removes the benefit cap. Government also must review the childcare offering – it cannot be right that single parents actually work their way into debt rather than out of it. Without these crucial changes, single parents and their children will continue to experience poverty and to suffer the disadvantage this brings."

The report finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as an accelerant for problem debt, exposing more single parent families to poverty. Single parents are more likely to have lost their jobs or to have been furloughed due to working in 'locked down sectors' such as hospitality and retail. In addition, home-schooling is more costly for single parents – they are twice as likely as couple parents to have no ICT equipment at home and twice as likely to have a child on free school meals. As a consequence:

According to the report, alongside poverty and high fixed costs, almost half (48 per cent) of single parents who had experienced problem debt had been affected by economic abuse. Those who have suffered economic abuse were more likely to have higher levels of debt, to be forced to make greater sacrifices to meet debt repayments and to be at a greater risk of struggling with their mental health. Many single parents have a child with their former abuser, meaning the abuse may well continue post-separation.  For example, just 24 per cent of those who had experienced economic abuse received maintenance payments in full on a regular basis.
Being in debt pushed single parents into further poverty – and, in some cases, destitution. This has a detrimental impact on both living standards and mental health for single parents and their children. Single parents typically seek to protect their children as much as possible from the negative impacts of poverty but, as a result, often experience greater hardship themselves. The report shows that in order to make their debt repayments, 66 per cent of single parents have gone without food and 20 per cent have been forced to cut back on food for their children.

In addition:

Following publication of this report, StepChange and Gingerbread are calling on the Government to:

For the report, click here.