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Economic Justice

Gingerbread report finds that work is no ‘golden ticket’ out of poverty for single parents

Work is failing to provide the majority of working single parent families with the income they need, with two thirds (67 per cent) saying finances are a constant struggle at best and one in ten saying they are not coping financially [1], a new report from Gingerbread has found. More than 2,000 single parents shared their experiences in an online survey and 23 took part in one to one interviews with the charity for the report, Paying the Price: The long road to recovery.

 

Gingerbread’s research finds little evidence of an economic upturn in the lives of single parents in work or those desperately trying to break into a tough jobs market.  Single parents describe their battle to overcome the strains of low-paid work – with new findings showing they are almost twice as likely to be in low-paid jobs as other workers (39 per cent of working single parents compared with 21 per cent of working people nationally [2]).

 

Single parents are also facing marked job insecurity and unpredictable incomes: one in five (19 per cent) working single parent respondents had seen their income fall and one in four (26 per cent) non-working single parents left their last paid job after redundancy, having their wage or hours cut or their temporary contract ending [3].

 

The findings are backed up by troubling poverty figures published earlier this month, which showed child poverty in families where single parents work full-time has risen from 17 per cent to 22 per cent from 2011-12 to 2012-13 [4].  Single parents taking part in Gingerbread’s research reported taking on extra hours at work, working multiple jobs and having to take a gamble on temporary or zero-hours contracts as they attempt to mitigate wage cuts and the rising costs of family essentials.

  • One in six (16 per cent) of working single parents surveyed were juggling more than one job 
  • A quarter (26 per cent) of working single parents surveyed had increased their working hours in the last two years due to    financial necessity.

 

Even with these increases, 23 per cent of working single parents would still like to work more hours.  Twelve per cent of working single parents said they had experienced a temporary or fixed term contract for the first time in the past two years; 6 per cent said they had experienced a ‘zero-hours’ contract for the first time in the same period [5].

 

Single parent of one Alison Fulcher, 43, from Essex works two jobs to provide for herself and her daughter:   “I work 33 hours a week doing two jobs: a housekeeper and a cleaner. For one of my jobs, while I really like the company I work for, I’m earning just above the minimum wage. Trying to bridge the gap between my earnings and the rent and our increased council tax bill is difficult. I absolutely want to contribute and pay my taxes, but on a low income, it’s not easy.

 

“Last summer I had to sell my car, I just couldn’t manage the running costs. I really miss it and being without it means I have to use the local supermarkets, which are more expensive. I’ve worked really hard to keep up with rising costs, but it’s a struggle.”

 

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: “Single parents are working incredibly hard to provide for their families, but all too often they are barely keeping up with the costs of the essentials for their families. There is little sign of an economic recovery for parents who have had to go without another meal and face the nagging, gnawing worry of bills marked ‘final warning’.

 

“Our report shows that for single parent families, work isn’t a golden ticket out of poverty, low-paid jobs aren’t a rite of passage and a recovering job market is still leaving many behind.”

 

Single parents trying to find work reported overwhelming pressure from the job centre in a job market where they felt disadvantaged, with few part-time or flexible jobs on offer for parents needing to juggle childcare with work. More than half (56 per cent) of non-working single parents said that inflexible working hours stopped them from applying jobs all or most of the time [6].

 

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir added: “Single parents are the sole earners for their family, so it’s absolutely vital that, when they go out to work, their job pays a decent wage and offers them stability.

 

“Without action from government and employers on in-work financial support, low-pay and job security, too many single parent families will remain trapped in poverty and left out of the recovery.”

 

The report from Gingerbread is the second in its three-year research project on the impact of austerity on single parent families. A summary of the report is available here.  Both reports are available at www.gingerbread.org.uk/payingtheprice.

 

Read the blog by Gingerbread’s Research Officer, Sumi Rabindrakumar