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Equalities charity brap published recently their ‘Making the Cut’ report about the challenges facing Birmingham community groups over an 18-month period.  Here, brap’s CEO, Joy Warmington, examines the findings and asks what the next step might be in addressing the difficulties and finding solutions.


The work of community organisations has always been underpinned by three key values. The first, and most obvious, is self-help: providing services when the state can’t or won’t, or when self-help is actually more effective or appropriate. Second is self-organisation. Community groups are often at their best when they’re movements for change in society, transforming attitudes about everything from homosexuality to disability to mental health. And finally, there’s independence: working strategically with local and national government to make life better by closing gaps in services and loopholes in the law.


That’s the history: what about today? In the current climate, community groups are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures. Making the Cut asked what impact is this having on frontline services and the people using them?


To get a better idea brap has been regularly speaking to community organisations in Birmingham for over a year. These organisations work with some of the most vulnerable in the city and cover a range of sectors, including housing, domestic violence, and youth employment.


What we’ve found is that cuts to spending and changes to public service design are forcing individuals to go to community organisations for the support they need. Whether it’s welfare changes, the closure of local housing advice offices, reductions in youth services, or countless other things, people are increasingly turning to local voluntary sector organisations for help and advice. Between November 2014 and July 2015, for example, 77% of community groups said they had faced a ‘significant’ increase in demand for their service.


But that’s not all: over the same period, 88% of project participants had to make changes to their work because of cuts to funding. For most this meant changes to admin and management support. A lot of organisations have also said there is less funding for overheads and the ‘softer’ activities that help create a fuller, more holistic support service.  At the same time funding has become more short-term, making it harder for organisations to invest in their sustainability and to plan long-term interventions. A youth service, for example, might find itself in the unhelpful position of spending a few weeks working with a troubled young person only to have them referred back to the organisation some months later. Having more time with the individual in the first place might have allowed the agency to really get to grips with the problems they faced, giving the young person the confidence and resilience to solve their problems independently.


What is more, community groups are finding it harder to lobby local and national government about the concerns they have. This is partly because with fewer resources and increased demand, most voluntary organisations just don’t have the time to challenge this cycle of diminishing returns. For most the time available to analyse policy, engage with decision-makers, and draw out the strategic implications of new policy, practice, or legislation on their day-to-day work has been massively reduced.


Additionally, the constraints on speaking out are also partly because contractual relationships can make it harder for community groups to say what they need to. Increasingly, commissioning contracts – not just locally but nationally too – are stipulating that organisations can’t speak out about the impact of funding cuts. And many organisations don’t want to risk the relationship they’ve built up with their commissioner because funding is so tight. The customer is always right.


Since the report was published a number of local councillors and council officials have expressed concern about its findings. As communities see the impact of funding cuts really start to hit vulnerable people, most decision makers have said they are keen to deepen their links with the voluntary sector (and, in fact, some community organisations have recently told us they’ve noticed a move toward greater partnership working). Some respondents have since promised to press for formal mechanisms with which the sector can talk to and engage new governing bodies (such as the West Midlands Combined Authority). Others have offered to explore how the contents of contracts between the council and community groups are communicated, as, they claim, the intention has never been to stifle the voice of the sector.


This is a crucial exercise.  For  we ignore the work, expertise, local intelligence, and advice of voluntary organisations at our peril. Many have a unique insight into the cumulative impact of welfare reforms and public service changes. There is a role for public authorities now, more than ever, to engage community organisations in discussion about how to ensure vulnerable and excluded groups aren’t being left behind. And there’s a role for us, too, as a society to think carefully about what kind of voluntary sector we want to see. Because at the moment there’s a danger we’ll lose the side of it that campaigns, and agitates, and demands. We can’t just be content for community groups to fulfil the first of the values we outlined at the start. Historically, community groups have built hospices, sheltered refugees, and made public transport accessible for the disabled. If we forget this role, we are forgetting its potential. We are forgetting its vitally important role of holding up a mirror to society and speaking truth to power.


Our new work supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust will feed into the ‘Making the Cut’ project by creating a series of voluntary sector “conversations” around social cohesion and inclusion in Birmingham.  Watch this space.


For more information about the Making the Cut project go to


Adrian Bua, Social Policy researcher at NEF blogs about NEF’s new report on creative responses to austerity measures.  This blog was originally published on NEF’s website


Austerity policies have put communities and organisations across the UK under intense pressure. While the negative social consequences are well documented, less attention has been paid to the range of creative responses to austerity measures coming from local authorities, housing associations, grant-makers and funders, charitable and voluntary sector, campaigners and activists.


While these are difficult times, groups across the UK are finding ways to maintain and even expand their activities. Driven by the aims of promoting wellbeing and tackling inequality, they are taking action to mitigate the effects of austerity, to challenge it, and to imagine alternative responses.


The landscape of responses


In our new report, out today, we draw together a set of existing examples to map out the range of strategies that communities throughout the UK are using to respond to austerity, building a strong knowledge base to support new groups in their ambitions and catalyse further pursuits that aim to achieve social justice.


We show how different groups across the UK have been:


Adapting by making austerity more liveable or workable.
Innovative local authorities have taken creative approaches to public spending which foster local economies, and have tried to make the most of existing assets rather than selling them off. Examples include public service reforms intended to build upon and mobilise local assets to improve service delivery, as well as the delivery of services that help people meet basic needs of housing, food and energy. The Monkey project in County Durham was set up by a group of housing associations and charities to provide free support to social housing tenants struggling with the cost of living due to falling wages and benefit cuts. The project can provide one-to-one advice, affordable new and good-quality reused furniture, discounts on new carpets and low-cost home contents insurance.


Challenging by speaking out against austerity.
Local authorities, charities, campaigners and activists have used research and evidence to show the negative effects of austerity on people’s lives. Others have developed campaigns that challenge landlords and payday lenders on business practices that capitalise on the desperate conditions of low income families, and have challenged government policies that advance austerity. Psychologists Against Austerity are an example of a new group, formed of community psychologists who are speaking out about the impact of austerity on mental health, using psychological and evidence-based research. Focus E15 Mothers are another example of a strong and articulate challenge to austerity. They challenged the local effects of austerity in Newham and the narrative that young, low income mothers do not have a right to affordable housing within London.


Imagining by becoming advocates of alternatives and wider structural change.
A handful of groups are looking beyond present circumstances to envisage ways of organising politics, the economy and public services beyond the current era of austerity. This involves a mixture of theory and practice on ideas such as ‘guerilla’ local economic development, investing rather than cutting, and developing services that are able to prevent problems before they occur, rather than curing them at a late stage. Examples include groups such as the Early Action Task Force which have developed a series of recommendations for hardwiring prevention into public budgets, and Preston City Council which is working closely with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) to spearhead new approaches to community wealth building through employee ownership.


Future possibilities


Austerity remains, for now, at the heart of the mainstream policy agenda. If cuts continue beyond this year’s election, local authorities’ budgets will be stretched to breaking point. The case against austerity and need for alternatives can only grow clearer.

Alun Severn is the co-ordinator of the Birmingham and Solihull Social and Economic Community Council with a background in social enterprise and the third sector. In this blog he reminds us of the importance for the third sector and social enterprises of getting to grips with social value if the sectors are to compete in the current marketplace.


Hands up who understands what is meant by the expression ‘social value’? If you work in the third sector and social enterprise sector you’ll either be grappling with how to implement and monitor it or sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. But for the time being it is here to stay and we have to make the most of it.


For the past two years Birmingham & Solihull Social Economy Consortium (BSSEC) has been delivering a Barrow Cadbury Trust-funded project aimed at identifying meaningful ways of implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The Act, for those of you not familiar with it, requires “public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts; and for connected purposes”.


BSSEC has worked jointly with Birmingham City Council and other public service commissioners to support the implementation of social value, providing briefings, resources and free workshops for social enterprises and trading voluntary organisations to help improve their ability to compete within the terms of this new legislation.




Many local authorities have made good progress in putting in place practical arrangements to embed social value-based approaches in their commissioning and procurement procedures.


But they are not implementing social value as a stand-alone policy. Rather, it is being utilised as part of a wider response to the current pressures under which local authorities are operating – government spending cuts, decommissioning services, making efficiency savings, reducing the demand on services, and becoming primarily service commissioners rather than service providers. Efforts are also being made to align social value with existing corporate priorities, processes and key policy drivers and the following have become central to shaping social value priorities amongst councils:


  • Targetted employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities.
  • Strengthening local economies and ‘making the local pound work harder’.
  • Avoiding ‘exporting jobs’ as a consequence of buying outside of authorities’ catchment areas.


Local authorities making the most progress on social value are taking bold approaches that go beyond the minimum requirements of the Act. Rather than applying social value only to service contracts above the EU procurement thresholds, which is all the Act requires, they are applying the legislation as widely as possible, to both services and goods, to all contract values, and to all providers.


Evidencing and measuring social value remain the least developed parts of the process and most authorities (and social enterprises, for that matter) are adopting a ‘wait and see’ position on measuring social value. There are a number of reasons for this:


  • It is still very early days and few contracts have progressed to the point at which evidencing requirements can be reviewed or checked for effectiveness.
  • Providers and purchasers lack not just standardised methods for measuring and reporting social value, but also a shared language for articulating social value.
  • There is still some doubt regarding not the just the type of evidence commissioners want, but also what they wish to measure and report.


Reduced staff capacity within local authorities also means that too little is being done to assess whether transferable evidencing and monitoring methods might already exist in other parts of their organisations.




Many social enterprises don’t know where to start in adopting a social value measurement method. They don’t know what information to collect, what to measure, what information commissioners will find most meaningful, what method is most suited to their size and type of organisation, or what the costs of implementation might be. The bewildering array of courses, methods, tools, consultancy offers and proprietary systems purporting to measure social impact and social value make it virtually impossible to make a decision. Two recently launched websites alone – Inspiring Impact , which is backed by the Cabinet Office, and the Social Value Hub , which is an initiative of Social Enterprise UK – contain hundreds of outcome measures, impact tools and reports.


Fortunately for us, the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance (CCEG) is currently undertaking work to assess how public authorities are implementing the Act and by Autumn 2014 there should be an ‘official’ UK social value portal which could include guidance and recommendations.




For many social enterprises the problem is not so much measuring social value but articulating and describing their social value. Many social enterprises struggle to describe what they do and the social benefit they deliver. They lack a defined, agreed corporate statement regarding their social value that is understood and used by all staff at all levels throughout the organisation. Achieving this is not the icing on the cake, but it is a good starting point and would help many to begin the process of identifying a suitable social value framework – including appropriate social value indicators and evidence – specifically for that organisation.


Our experience suggests that those enterprises fewer than around 25 staff are struggling because they don’t have enough staff to dedicate sufficient time and effort to social value and impact measurement.


There is a risk that a disproportionate burden of data-gathering and evidence will fall predominantly on the shoulders of suppliers. This would severely disadvantage smaller social enterprise and third sector providers (and smaller SMEs too). The Third Sector Research Centre recently published a report voicing precisely this concern.




Whatever regimes for measuring and reporting social value local authorities adopt must be proportionate and ‘do-able’ and should ideally be a joint effort between public service commissioners and the sector. Anything over-complicated or disproportionate is likely to erode rather than create social value. This makes continuing work to support social enterprises and trading third sector organisations in their social value practices of even greater importance.


Social enterprises and third sector organisations in Birmingham should take this early opportunity to sign up to the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility. The Charter is still in its infancy and early adopters are likely to be  able to influence both it and the subsequent monitoring that will be required from businesses reporting against their Charter action plans. While the Charter is not solely concerned with social value, it has become Birmingham’s main tool for a social value focus and guidance. Social enterprises should get cracking and start signing up to the Charter – they shouldn’t leave it to the private sector to lead on the Charter, as is the case at the moment.


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


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

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

Paul Hunter, Head of Research at the Smith Institute,  discusses the changing face of suburbia and the findings of a new report ‘Poverty in Suburbia’

From Abigail’s Party to Keeping Up Appearances, suburbia has long been synonymous with relative comfort and cheery affluence. Yet the stereotype of suburbs as places inhabited solely by the upwardly mobile middle classes belies the number of those in poverty who live on the edges of our cities and towns. Indeed, as our new report, Poverty in Suburbia, demonstrates, an increasing number of people  in suburbs are now living in poverty.  There are approximately 6.8 million people in poverty in the suburbs of England and Wales – or put another way – 57% of those in poverty live in the suburbs.


To date tracking poverty in suburbs has not taken place. There have been occasional interventions, such as Boris Johnson arguing that welfare reform would result in a social cleansing of inner London and a flight to the suburbs, as well as growing interest in the issue from the US – but there have been few studies in the UK. Indeed, there are no official statistics on suburbia.


To help fill this information gap we used a range of indicators to map poverty and evaluate which ‘at risk’ groups are most common in suburbs. We looked in detail at incidences of poverty in eight major cities and found that there are significant socio-economic trends in the suburbs which have been largely ignored and which may worsen with continued budget cuts and pressure/reductions in services. For example, of those at risk of poverty there were higher concentrations of lone parents, part-time workers, people with a disability, and pension credit recipients in the suburbs than the rest of the country.


What is more many of the risk factors appear to be increasing in suburbs and the number of suburban neighbourhoods with above average levels of poverty has risen by 33% over the last decade. In addition, more people per head are on benefits (pension credit, job seeker’s allowance, income support and disability living allowance) in the suburbs than the rest of the country. And the claimant rates have increased more per head (or decreased less) in the suburbs since the recession.


These findings suggest the need for a greater focus on the suburbs by government (both local and central), policy makers and anti-poverty campaigners. This is even more of an imperative given that higher housing costs and a lack of affordable housing in inner cities is thought to be forcing poorer tenants out to the suburbs. This phenomena, combined with predicted rises in child poverty rates, could mean that poverty becomes even more prevalent in suburbia.


Poverty in suburbia has been ignored for too long. With a majority of people in poverty living in suburbs there needs to be a much better understanding of the issue. Many suburban areas have been badly affected by reductions in local authority and central government spending.


Suburbs may not be looked upon with great affection by some, yet they remain places where people want to live.  It is important to ensure that what attracted people to suburbia in the first place is not eroded.  This is not to say suburbs should be only for the relatively wealthy, but rather that particular suburbs most in need of support should not be overlooked.  This requires not only renewal and investment in the built environment but also greater understanding of the resilience of their local economies and social infrastructure.  We need to reimagine how we view suburbia and rethink how we support poorer suburbs.  Failure to do so risks overlooking the majority of people in poverty.

A new report by independent think tank the Smith InstitutePoverty in Suburbia, finds that there are approximately 7 million people in poverty (57% of all those in poverty) living in the suburbs of England and Wales. The report also shows that the number of suburban neighbourhoods with above average levels of poverty has risen by 33% over the last decade. In many major cities there is also a narrowing gap in concentrations of poverty between urban centres and their suburbs.  The Smith Institute is an independent think tank.


The report challenges traditional notions of suburbs being places of relative affluence and wealth and shows that:


  • More people per head of population were on benefits (pension credit, job seeker’s allowance, income support and disability living allowance) in the suburbs than the rest of the country. The claimant rates have increased more per head (or decreased less) since the recession in the suburbs.


  • The gap in concentrations of poverty between cities and their suburban areas has narrowed. The report showed that incidences of poverty in the suburbs of eight major cities narrowed most in London (by 4 percentage points), Manchester (3 percentage points) and Newcastle (3 percentage points).


The report highlighted that:


  • Over half of those in overcrowded homes now live in suburbia.


  • Suburbs are home to more lone parents than the rest of the country.


  • In the decade to 2011 suburbia experienced a 25% increase in unemployed households – compared with a 9% increase in the rest of the country.


  • Around 60% of those claiming pension credit live in the suburbs.


  • The number of people with a disability was higher in suburban areas than the rest of the country.


Poverty in Suburbia calls for a greater focus on the suburbs by government (both local and central), policy makers and anti-poverty campaigners. It warns that higher housing costs and a lack of affordable housing in inner cities may force poorer tenants out to the suburbs. This alongside predicted rises in child poverty could mean that poverty becomes even more prevalent in suburbia.


Paul Hunter, the report’s author and head of research at the Smith Institute said:


“Poverty in suburbia has been ignored for too long. The evidence shows that an increasing number of people in poverty live in our suburbs. There needs to be a much better understanding of poverty in suburbia. Many suburban areas have struggled with the impact of austerity measures, and there is now a pressing case for a suburban renaissance.”







Launched today, Gingerbread’s latest report finds that most single parent families are financially fragile, and despite frugality, such families regularly struggle to meet their financial commitments.

Paying the Price is the first report in a three-year project investigating the effect of the ‘age of austerity’ in single parent families. With data collected from an online survey and in-depth interviews, the current report turns its attention to how single parents’ household budgets have been affected by austerity measures.

More than half of (55%) of single parents stated that they ran out of money before the end of almost every month. Almost nine in ten (87%) had borrowed money for sought emergency welfare support in the last year. Gingerbread also found that 40 per cent of single parents are behind on their bills.

Between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, the incomes of single parent families have fallen by  six per cent whilst the incomes of couple families have, for the most part, remained static.

A significant source of financial trouble for single parent families was the rise in living costs; single parents are more affected by the costs of housing, utility bills and foods as they take up a larger portion of their income. Additionally, single parent families are significantly affected by tax and benefit reforms.

This can also hinder single parent families’ financial resilience with three quarters of single parent saying they were rarely able to save, leaving them unprepared to cope with unexpected financial costs.

Although many single parents have adopted a number of ways of coping with austerity, such as careful budget management and finding cheap substitutes for some products, many single parents are trapped in a difficult-to-escape cycle of financial fragility.

Read the full report here.

Today Gingerbread released the report Paying the Price, which explores the effect of austerity on single parent families. Sumi Rabindrakumar, Research Officer at Gingerbread blogs about the research findings.


Families have been struggling under the cloud of ‘austerity’ since the 2007 recession. In recent months, there has been renewed debate across political lines over the consequences of austerity reforms and a stagnating economy for living standards. But while many households in the ‘squeezed middle’ are feeling the pinch, new research from Gingerbread shows that single parents’ finances have been hit particularly hard in recent years.


Bearing the austerity burden


Single parents are bearing a disproportionate burden of welfare reforms. The government’s own impact assessments for the wave of changes starting in April 2013 show that they are expected to make up from 20 to 50 per cent of those affected – yet single parents only make up seven per cent of all households.


Our Paying the Price report shows the harsh reality of these changes. Around 40 per cent of single parents we surveyed are paying extra council tax since the localisation of council tax support. Around one in eight single parents surveyed said they had already been hit by the benefit cap. And over a fifth of single parents said they had lost at least £100 per month due to the April 2013 reforms.

20131217 Paying the Price - Report 1 infographic


For those already living “down to the pounds and pence”, as one single parent put it, these are not insignificant sums. Single parents’ finances are already stretched to the limit – nearly eight out of ten single parents surveyed find managing household finances a constant struggle at best. Rising living costs affect single parents more than couples, as single parents on average spend a greater proportion of their budget on essential bills.


And despite recent ‘green shoots’ of economic growth, the logical response to tighter budgets – earning more – is not an option for many single parents. Out-of-work single parents are keen to find jobs, yet interviews revealed a lack of employment support and understanding among both employers and Jobcentre Plus advisers of single parents’ need for flexible work. And those in work often do not fare much better – nearly a fifth of single parents surveyed said they had lost employment income in the last year due to falling wages or hours, or redundancy.


Managing the downturn


Our research shows how single parents are working hard to manage within tighter finances. Micro-managing household budgets, cutting back on spending (particularly on themselves), scouring shops for the best prices, selling items online – these are just some of the strategies single parents are using to make ends meet.


“I only buy things that I really need. If it means sacrificing something else to buy something that I really need, I’ll do that. We’ll go without until I really, really need it”

But this is not enough to weather the financial storm for many single parents. In our survey, 40 per cent of single parents were in arrears on regular payments; and many had slipped quite far behind. Nearly 90 per cent of single parents surveyed have had to borrow money or seek welfare assistance when they ran out of money in the past 12 months. Around half of those surveyed had to rely on credit cards or overdrafts when they ran out of money; and one in eight had turned to payday or doorstep lenders. Worryingly, the single parents involved in our research suggest that this reliance on borrowed money is on the rise.


“I’m trying not to [take out loans]…when an unexpected bill come in, it’s so easy to say ‘Yes, I’ll have one, and then that’s going to be the last’ – until the next one. It’s just a circle


A call for caution


It is, of course, welcome news that there are emerging signs of economic recovery in the UK. But this research serves as a timely reminder that not everyone is getting an equal share in these gains.


What is more, the financial situation for many single parents is only likely to get worse. The current welfare reform programme will be less than 60 per cent complete by the end of 2013/14. We do not yet know how universal credit will affect single parents, but recent analysis by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex suggests they will lose out in cash terms, whether in or out of work. And the Chancellor has recently warned of further fiscal consolidation until 2020. It is clear that for those single parents already struggling, there is much more financial pain to come.


Gingerbread will continue to track how single parent families fare under austerity as part of our Paying the Price project. We would, however, urge policy-makers to think hard before embarking on further reforms, particularly to the tax and benefit system. The government’s stated aims for their welfare reforms are fairness and affordability. Pushing single parents to the brink financially, increasing the risk of debt and demand for emergency financial support in the process, risks failing on both counts.


“What is already a struggle becomes a budgeting mission which never ends. There is no respite from watching every penny”


Paying the Price is a research project being carried out by Gingerbread, with funding from Trust for London and Barrow Cadbury Trust. Read the first report tracking single parents under austerity at

The report released today proposes that a radical review of Big Society thinking is needed in light of millions of people being excluded from the Big Society, whilst the charities that support disadvantages people are themselves experiencing cuts to their funding.


The Big Society Audit, released by Civil Exchange and supported by  the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and DHA points out that despite the rhetoric surrounding the Big Society, some of the most vulnerable are adversely affected by the policy. People with disabilities will experience 29% of the cuts, whilst 500,000 people in the UK are now dependent on food aid.


The report highlights stark differences between communities with regard to how they have been affected by the Big Society. The Big Society is at its healthiest in affluent and rural communities. Those living in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country were less likely (52%) to  agree that people pulled together to improve things than those in the least deprived 10 per cent (79%). Charitable giving and formal volunteering were more common in affluent areas and those living in affluent areas were more likely (73%) to say people in their neighborhood could be trusted that those living in disadvantages areas (22%).


The voluntary sector, despite an increased demand for its services has been largely left out in the cold. Many voluntary sector organisation, particularly those that work with vulnerable people, often in disadvantaged areas have experienced cuts to sources of income that they relied on. Many are now ‘running on empty’ with further funding cuts in the pipeline.


There are, however, positives to report. Communities are taking over vital assets and local services, greater transparency and accountability, and higher levels of volunteering, particularly amongst young people.


Read the full report here.