Call for action to help single parents in Scottish workplaces

The world of work isn’t suitable in its current state for single parents, warns a new report, which is calling for increased government support to help avoid widening the economic gap.

Single parent charity Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are behind the study, saying the report “paints a bleak picture” for the UK’s two million single parents – 90 per cent of whom are women.

The study indicates the full impact of the pandemic on such workers’ jobs has yet to be seen.

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According to the report, single parents are more likely to have been furloughed at 30 per cent than parents in a couple (21 per cent) and a far greater proportion (46 per cent) worked in hard-hit sectors like hospitality and retail compared to couple parents (26 per cent).

'Affordable, flexible, high quality childcare is vital in order to enable single parents to work,' according to the report. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.
'Affordable, flexible, high quality childcare is vital in order to enable single parents to work,' according to the report. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

The study added that before the pandemic, single mothers earned half of the salary of couple mothers “and it is vanishingly unlikely that this ‘salary gap’ will have closed during the pandemic”.

Childcare was highlighted as a key issue – with a call for it to be considered a key part of UK infrastructure, with “affordable, flexible, high-quality” options deemed essential to enable single parents to work.

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“With UK childcare costs among the most expensive in the world, [Prime Minister Boris] Johnson’s administration must help single parents to access childcare and support them to meet the upfront costs when they enter work,” the report’s authors said.

“Without childcare, single parents will be locked out of the labour market.”

Gingerbread wants the UK Government to create a childcare infrastructure support fund to prevent providers of such services from closing; change how childcare costs are met for those on low incomes; and cover such expenses for parents undertaking training while out of work.

The charity also wants employers to advertise vacancies flexibly where possible, for example.

Gingerbread chief executive Victoria Benson said: “When it comes to work, single parents are already in a precarious position and it’s clear that without concerted effort, things are set to get worse. Before the pandemic, nearly 70 per cent of single parents were in work and yet many were still living in poverty.

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"The pandemic is widening the gulf and alarm bells are ringing loud and clear – the [UK] Government must do more to support single parents to access work and to ensure work pays. If it doesn’t, then we will see more children living in poverty and more single parent families suffering the disadvantage this brings.”

The report involved 40 single parents being interviewed in the summer of 2020, with follow-ups with 33 taking place in January and February this year.

The study was funded by The Standard Life Foundation, which aims to help improve financial well-being in the UK.

Its programme manager Rebecca Graham said: “This report shows clearly how the Covid-19 and the [UK] Government’s responses to it have 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.”

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