The financial security of single parents, already hard hit by austerity and welfare reform policies, looks likely to deteriorate further, according to a study by Gingerbread, the charity for lone parent families.
The first in a series of studies looking at the impact of “the age of austerity” finds that many single parents on low to middle incomes are struggling to cope financially with the impact of shrinking incomes and the rising cost of housing, food, utility bills and childcare.
One in five of lone parents said they had lost £100 a month or more since benefit reforms were introduced in April 2013. Nine out of 10 said they had been forced to cut back on spending on basics such as food and children’s clothes, with two-thirds skipping meals to ensure their children had enough to eat.
Living frugally was often not enough, however, and 90% of single parents said they had been forced to borrow over the past year when they had run out of money. Friends and family were the most common source of loans, but half said they had used credit cards or bank overdrafts to pay bills, and 13% had used payday lenders.
Nearly two-thirds of lone parents in arrears were at least three months behind on one bill, as they juggled their outgoings to survive what the report calls a “cycle of financial fragility”.
The study found it was hard for lone parents to increase their income because of the weak job market and difficulties finding flexible work to fit around childcare. One in five single parents surveyed said their incomes had fallen in the past year as a result of reductions in wages or hours worked.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: “We are only just beginning to see the real impact of cuts on single parent families. They have pared back all they can and now face debt and very difficult decisions over heating and food for their families.
“We know that for the majority, things won’t get better over the next few years. It is difficult to see how they can survive under further cuts without government action on high living costs, barriers to work and finding work that pays.”
The study drew on on an online survey of 643 single parents and in-depth interviews with 23 members of its single parent panel.