Skip to main content
Economic Justice

‘It is hellish, I have no life’ – single parents’ struggle to work and support their family

Sumi Rabindrakumar, Gingerbread’s research officer, says that the upturn in employment may be good news for some, but few single parents are reaping the benefits

 

Work, for single parents, isn’t easy at the best of times. As both the main carer and main earner supporting their family, it can be tough to find a job that allows single parents to juggle childcare as well as pay the bills. But new research from Gingerbread shows that single parents are now also battling low pay, insufficient hours and job insecurity in today’s job market. The end result is that work is failing to provide the majority of working single parent families with the income they need.

 

No pay, no gain

 

Our latest report, The long road to recovery, reveals the gulf between a recovering economy and the real-life experiences of working single parents. Around two in five working single parents surveyed are low-paid.  A quarter had experienced a wage cut in the last six months alone.  And 30 per cent had experienced unpaid overtime in the last two years, for the first time.

 

“I am earning less per hour than I was four years ago”

 

Pay aside, many single parents simply can’t find the working hours they want and need – the proportion of single parents working part-time when they want full-time hours has doubled since 2007. Over half of non-working single parents surveyed said inflexible hours stopped them from applying for jobs all or most of the time.

 

And now single parents must deal with the job insecurity that has emerged since the recession. Around a quarter of non-working single parents said they’d left their last job due to hours or wage cuts, a temporary job ending or redundancy. And once out of work, the support provided is often focused on job search targets, rather than meaningful support to help single parents back into sustainable employment.

 

“I found myself just applying for jobs…that I’d already been rejected for, just to meet the quota they had set me”

 

Single parents are doing all they can to keep their heads above water, with many working multiple jobs and long hours to cover their bills. But, in the face of a long-term fall in wages, rising living costs and recent welfare cuts, it can feel like a losing battle. And no wonder, when single parents now need to earn more than twice as much as they did in 2008 to meet a basic standard of living.

 

A call for action

 

It’s clear that work is no golden ticket out of poverty. We cannot dismiss the problem of low-paid and insecure jobs as a rite of passage, just the first step on a long-term career path. As the Resolution Foundation found, people are too often trapped in jobs that offer little pay and no progression.   Single parents have been disproportionately hit by welfare cuts and there may be more on the horizon. As the safety net is pulled away, we need action now to ensure single parents can support their families.   Gingerbread wants to see the government improve support for single parents getting back to work, moving away from the ‘work-first’ approach that pushes single parents to take any job. We need stronger in-work financial support to soften financial barriers to work. And the government must work with employers to promote flexible working and tackle low pay and job insecurity.   The government wants to ensure the economy grows and to reduce welfare spending – when getting just 5 per cent more single parents into the workforce could save over £400m, why not make them part of the solution rather than risk isolating them further?

 

“I work 24-hour shifts and longer very often…I’m missing all the little important parts of my little girl growing up and it breaks my heart!  All this and I still fail to make ends meet…my cupboards are bare”

 

Sumi Rabindrakumar is Gingerbread’s Research Officer. Paying the Price is a research project being carried out by Gingerbread, with funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust and Trust for London.  The Long Road to Recovery is the second report from the project; you can read the report at www.gingerbread.org.uk/payingtheprice.