Caring without sharing

Single parents’ journeys through the Covid-19 crisis (final report)

Clery E, Dewar L, Papoutsaki D |   | Gingerbread/ Institute for Employment Studies | May 2021

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At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was little consideration of its potential impact on single parents. This research sought to fill this gap, focusing on single parent workers who were not defined as ‘essential workers’ and so were likely to face the greatest challenges in terms of needing to work and care simultaneously during this period.

The research involved two strands, an ongoing analysis of quantitative data from the official Labour Force Survey (LFS) and successive qualitative interviews with 40 single parents, in the summer of 2020 and early 2021 (where 33 of our original participants agreed to be re-interviewed).

In the period immediately before the pandemic began, single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes compared with other family types, for example mothers in couple households earned almost twice as much per week as single mothers. Single parents were concentrated in routine jobs in the retail and hospitality sectors, which were to be adversely affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. As the first lockdown hit in March 2020, the proportion of single parents working from home increased, although this shift was less pronounced than it was for coupled parents. However, single parents were much more likely to be furloughed than coupled parents.

Analysis of qualitative interviews documented the dramatic changes experienced by single parents during the first lockdown with the majority juggling home-schooling and working on their own, requiring them to undertake what one interviewee described as “an impossible balancing act”. While some single parents were furloughed, there was a lack of clarity regarding access to the scheme, which was perceived as being implemented very much at the discretion of employers.

As the UK came out of the first lockdown, the availability of childcare was more limited and single parents talked about an uncertain future with worries about job security. Overall, single parents did not think the unique challenges they face had been sufficiently considered in the policy and guidance response to the Covid-19 pandemic.