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What Will the Queen's Speech Mean for Single Parents?

26/05/2015 18:40 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

Single parent households have been among the hardest hit by tax and benefit reforms since 2010 - what will the Queen's Speech mean for them?

Where we're at

There are two million single parents in the UK, heading up one in four families. This far from niche group are doing a brilliant job, but running a household alone - paying the bills, juggling work with kids - can be challenging.

Children in single parent families are twice as likely to be growing up poor, as their parents struggle to make ends meet on just the one income. Single parents are more likely to be stuck in low paid, insecure work. Childcare responsibilities can make it difficult to access career opportunities or pursue further education or training, though contrary to the picture often painted by the media, the majority of single parents are working. On top of the very real financial struggle many single parents face, day to day life can often mean facing down stigma or prejudice - three quarters of Gingerbread's 60,000 members report experiencing stereotyping of some kind.

2010 - 15

In recent times, an already tough job has got that much harder. The recession coupled with drastic cuts to public spending has left many single parents worse off, fighting just to keep their heads above water.

Single parents tell us - and our research shows - that particular pressure points include the gap between low incomes and rising bills, the continual struggle to find affordable, reliable childcare and the ongoing challenge to get work they can fit alongside their caring responsibilities.

Child poverty in single parent families where parents are employed has increased - some 22 per cent of households where single parents are working full time are now in poverty. It's important to note this rise in poverty can be put down to external forces acting on single parent families - rather than laid at their door. The number of single parent households has stayed static for more than a decade - but poverty rates have increased.

The decision to cap benefits has hit single parent families hard - they make up the majority of those capped, losing around £50 to £100 a week. In most cases, these households have very young children under five. The sanctions regime has been applied in a blunt and ineffective fashion; almost half of the decisions to 'sanction' single parents are later found to have been incorrect. At the same time, rising childcare costs and limited support mean almost half of single parents we surveyed have gone into debt just to pay for childcare - borrowing money from friends, family - even taking out bank loans.

Caught between rising costs, cripplingly expensive childcare and low paid work, many of the UK's 2 million single parents - and their 3 million children - are in a perilous situation, fighting hard to keep the show on the road.

Going forward

As we look to a new Queen's Speech, what will this new Government offer them?

Gingerbread is clear about what we do - and don't - want to see laid before Parliament next week.

First off, we urgently need to see concerted, co-ordinated action on child poverty. Current predictions suggest 1 in 3 children in the UK will be living in poverty by 2020, but in recent years' state support for kids has in effect been cut - neither Child Benefit nor Child Tax Credit payments have kept pace with inflation.

The single most effective, immediate thing the government could do to tackle child poverty would be to ensure benefits supporting children keep up with the cost of living. We want to see something akin to a 'triple lock' imposed on benefits for children, similar to the ring fence applied to pensions, ensuring their value keeps pace with inflation.

Second, the government must take steps to ensure work pays. For too many single parents, low wages coupled with high childcare costs mean their budgets are a precarious balance, with little financial incentive to work. The detail of the way in which universal credit is applied, in particular the amount you are allowed to earn before it is withdrawn, and the extent to which it covers childcare costs needs to be re-thought to ensure this dramatic shift in the way social security works doesn't at best mean many single parents find work doesn't pay - or at worse push even more low income families into poverty.

Finally, the government must think twice about any plan to further reduce the benefit cap. We know that more than half of those already affected are single parents, for many it is the high cost of private rents that are pushing them over the threshold. Far from living a life of luxury, they are struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and stay living close to their friends and families. Any lowering of the cap will see more and more families with young children forced out of their homes and communities.

Conclusion

The UK's 2 million single parents have borne the brunt of many of the most worrying social and economic trends we've seen in recent years. Despite record number of single parents in work - some 63 per cent are employed - poverty continues to be most sharply felt by those families headed by just the one parent. There are many things the government should and shouldn't do to help this group and their three million children - but tackling child poverty, ensuring work pays, and making sure further changes to welfare don't see some of the poorest in our society hit hardest would be a good place to start.