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The child maintenance system is failing to ensure children receive the level of support they are entitled to, according to a new report by Gingerbread.

Children deserve more’ details how, in too many cases, loopholes in the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) mean that non-resident parents are paying a fraction of what they should. The CMS is supposed to calculate and, when necessary, enforce, the payments that children need. But the report argues that recent reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. This has led to a situation where desperate parents are repeatedly being let down by a system that seems designed to be as unhelpful and opaque as possible.

In particular, the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has had widespread repercussions. One common issue is that paying parents with often considerable assets can end paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments.

Ironically, the CMS was set up to replace an ailing predecessor, the Child Services Agency (CSA), which was shut down due to being widely regarded as not-fit-for-purpose. But for many parents, the new method of the CMS means that their payments have dramatically decreased since switching systems.

The new, inadequate method of calculating child maintenance payments is only half the problem. Parents who believe they are receiving less than their children are entitled to frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS, or being kept in the dark about their options. Since the calculation is based on HRMC information, single parents often find themselves being passed back and forth between the two organisations, with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation.

Gingerbread Research Officer Sumi Rabindrakumar says:

“Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others are having their earnings ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.”

Gingerbread is calling for the new government to set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion, including far greater co-ordination between the CMS and HMRC when assessing incomes, and considerably more support for parents who wish to challenge assessments.


Read the full report here


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

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

In advance of George Osbourne’s Autumn Statement, in which it is expected that the chancellor will say the economy is recovering, Gingerbread has stated that single parents surveyed for their upcoming report say they believe their financial situation will worsen over the next year.


The survey was conducted as part of the report, Paying the Price: single parents in the age of austerity, due to be released next month. Paying the Price looks at how single parents are faring light of austerity cuts and rising living costs. Around a third (36 per cent) of their outgoings go on housing, food and fuel essentials as opposed to around a quarter (27 per cent) of couple families’ spending. Rising living cost have also impacted on single parents’ food expenditure with two-thirds of the parents saying they had cut back on food for themselves, and one in seven (14 per cent) said they had cut back on food for their children.


In responses these findings, Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir states, “Single parents aren’t feeling any warmth from an economy that is supposedly heating up. In fact, the majority expect things to get worse. At this time of year, parents with growing children need to buy new shoes and winter coats – but for too many this is becoming impossible.”