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Coronavirus: Single parents at greater risk of job insecurity as half report poor mental health

Kalila Sangster
·3-min read
A young boy being held by his mother with his head resting on her shoulder, looking down a suburban street.
Single parents are twice as likely to have poor mental health, compared with other family types, according to new research. Photo: Getty

Single parents in the UK are at greater risk of job insecurity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, new research from Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has found.

As COVID-19 hit the UK in early 2020 single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes than other family types, with mothers in coupled households earning almost twice as much per week as single mothers.

Nearly half (46%) of single parents worked in routine occupations compared to 26% of coupled parents. Routine occupations — also classed as semi- and unskilled work — in retail, hotels and restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic with lockdown closures causing many employers to cut hours and jobs.

Single parents are also twice as likely to have a zero hours contract as other family types which puts them at greater risk of job insecurity.

As many roles shifted to working from home during the first national lockdown, only 22% of single parents were able to move to remote working, compared to 35% of coupled parents, creating greater childcare challenges as schools and nurseries closed.

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Some 30% of single parents were furloughed under the government’s Job Retention scheme (30%) compared to 21% of parents in a partnership, further reflecting single parents’ caring responsibilities and highlighting that they are more likely to work in sectors affected by lockdown. It is more likely that these sectors will experience further job losses as businesses in England are hit by the second lockdown, due to last until 2 December.

Single parents were twice as likely to have poor mental health, compared with other family types, both immediately before and in the early stages of the pandemic. Overall 51% of single parents reported having depression, bad nerves or anxiety, compared with 27% of coupled parents.

Single parents reported experienced an ‘impossible balancing act’, as they struggled with making “constant trade-offs” between their work and caring responsibilities.

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Worries about job security, the ability to secure new work, uncertainty around work requirements and formal and informal childcare availability, have made planning for the future impossible for single parents with many respondents feeling that “the unique challenges facing them had not been sufficiently accounted for in policy and guidelines developed.”

Single parent charity Gingerbread is calling on the government to do more to support single parents during the coronavirus pandemic. The charity is urging the government to change policy to help single parents to stay in work by allowing them to access the furlough scheme where they need to do so for their caring responsibilities such as when a child needs to isolate.

Gingerbread is also calling on the government to make the Test and Trace Isolation Grant available to parents on low incomes who cannot work when their children are sent home from childcare or school to self-isolate.

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Laura Dewar, policy and research at Gingerbread, said: “Single parents have been hit hard by the COVID-19 Crisis. Our research has shown that during the previous Lockdown single parents faced ‘an impossible balancing act’. As the sole breadwinner and carer single parents having a job is vital for their family income and the financial security of their children.

“The government must to do more to support single parent families as we start the second lockdown. Single parents must be better supported to stay in work, find new work or re-train.”

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