Half of the children from single-parent families are in relative poverty

Half of children from single-parent families now live in relative poverty, according to exclusive research showing how a decade of cuts in austerity-driven benefits has left single parents among the most exposed to rising inflation.

In the first of a series of reports from the front line of the cost of living crisis, The Guardian reports today on the impact of cuts in state support by successive Conservative governments, which have left the women who raise their children alone in a much weaker position to deal with it. with the shocks of the pandemic and rising commodity prices such as food and heating.

The vast majority of the 1.8 million single-parent families in Britain (almost nine out of 10) are headed by women. Together, they are raising 3.1 million children, more than a fifth of all children.


Single mothers in the UK


About a quarter of all families with children in Britain are headed by single parents. After increases between the 1970s and 1990s, that figure has remained virtually the same since 2001. The proportion of single parents has remained around 10% for more than 10 years.

There are approximately 1.8 million single-parent families with dependent children (under the age of 16, or 16 to 18 with full-time education) and together they are raising 3.1 million children. Up to 90% of single parents are women.

Despite the stereotypes of young mothers, less than 1% are teenagers, while their average age is 39, according to the charity of single parents Gingerbread. Most have only one child, 55%, while about 32% have two, and 13% have three or more children.

Boris Johnson, before becoming prime minister, wrote in a controversial column in 1995 that there was a “frightening proliferation of single mothers,” fueling the media stereotype of single fathers. She referred to what she described as the “problem” of single parenthood, and blamed “happy, irresponsible women for getting pregnant in the absence of the husband.”

According to Gingerbread, just under half (44%) of single parents were married when they had their children, before their partner’s separation, divorce, or survival. Single fathers are more than three times more likely to become widowed than single mothers.

About one-fifth of single parents are of black or minority ethnicity, compared to 16% nationally, while more than a quarter have a disability, compared to 14% of single parents. couple.

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The research shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Institute of Fiscal Studies establishes the scale of the crisis. It shows that the relative poverty of children from single-parent families has increased at a significantly faster rate compared to other households.

Relative poverty is defined as having an income below 60% of the national median, adjusted for household size. For single parents, this measure of poverty increased by nine percentage points between 2013-14 and 2019-20 to 49% at the start of the global health emergency.

In stark contrast, the rate of children from two-parent families increased by only two percentage points to 25%.

Tony Blair, the former Labor prime minister, warned that a “painful cost-of-living restriction” was affecting families and that progress in the fight against child poverty was severely affected by the large benefit cuts imposed during the last decade.

IFS poverty chart

Eradicating child poverty by 2020 had been a key commitment Blair made during his first term in government at the turn of the millennium. However, the IFS study suggests that progress was reversed under the Conservatives amid the austerity push of the post-2008 financial crisis.

“The last Labor government made the fight against child poverty a priority. Our policies revolutionized opportunities for single parents by making work pay: single-parent employment increased and, as a result, child poverty fell sharply, ”Blair said.

“This legacy has been undermined over the past decade as state benefits have eroded, growth has been weak and wages are stagnant, despite high employment rates for single parents.”


Chronology: a decade of welfare cuts


2008: Job search rules: Work reduces the age of the youngest child when a single-parent parent with benefits has to look for paid work from 16 to 12 years old.

2009: The job search rule for single parents is reduced to 10 years.

2010: Elected Liberal Conservative-Democratic coalition. The job search rule for single parents is reduced to seven years.

2012: The job search rule for single parents is reduced to five years.

2013: A profit limit has been imposed. It limits the maximum amount of benefits a household can receive to £ 26,000 a year for a family. The gradual launch of universal credit begins.

2015: Conservatives form a majority government. The four-year profit freeze has been launched. This meant that from 2016 the value of benefits remained at 2015 levels, which allowed inflation to systematically reduce the value of benefits.

2016: The profit limit was reduced to £ 23,000 a year in London and £ 20,000 elsewhere.

2017: The two-child limit has been introduced in benefits. Universal credit applicants no longer receive additional support for a third or subsequent child. The job search rule for single parents is reduced to three years. Single parents should be prepared to work when their little one is one or two years old.

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Figures from the charity Child Poverty Action Group show that last year there were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK, more than a quarter of all children, or eight in a classroom. 30.

Relating growing divisions in society to the decade of austerity imposed by conservative-led governments, the IFS said the increase in poverty of children living in single-parent households “reflects reductions in the real value of state benefits during the years 2011-2019 “. ”.

Among the support cuts that have most affected single mothers are the benefit limit, the four-year freeze on benefits between 2016 and 2020, the two-child limit and a reduction in the child’s age. when single parents have to start looking for work.

Food insecurity picture

Prior to 2008, single parents could claim income support until their youngest child reached the age of 16, or 19 in full-time education. After the changes first introduced by the last Labor government, and made substantially tougher by the Conservative-led coalition, this age limit was repeatedly cut. Single parents are now expected to prepare for work when their children are one year old, and then be in a job from the age of three.

“Child poverty is absolutely on the rise,” said Morag Treanor, a professor of child and family inequalities at Heriot-Watt University. “Single parents do not have the security to build what is required to look for work until they take their children to school or a suitable nursery. It is very harmful, it is distressing and it affects mothers and children.

With households across the country facing the worst inflationary shock since the 1980s, charities warned that single mothers were suffering a more severe toll from rising energy prices and rising energy prices. cost of a weekly store.

Victoria Benson, executive director of Gingerbread, the charity for single-parent families, said: “The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have made their lives much worse, and the welfare system simply does not offer the level of support. necessary. ”

He said the charity had heard of a single mother who does not eat when her children are with her father, of a mother who ate nothing but a single sandwich for three days because she had run out of money. , and of the food that comes out in the fridge because it is not affordable to run the electricity.

“This government needs to do more urgently,” he said.

Single parents are more likely to have visited a food bank. Photography: Anthony Devlin / Getty Images

Uncovering the challenge of single mothers, a separate study shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that single parents were more likely to suffer from food insecurity amid the cost of living crisis, with up to one 70% going hungry and skipping meals in comparison. with 55% for parents alone.

According to a survey of some 4,000 low-income people last month, the poverty charity said up to 40% could not keep their homes warm compared to 31% of biparental families. Single parents were more likely to have taken on new debts, visited a food bank, and were left without a bathroom, shower, or basic toiletries.

The IFS, which will publish a broader report on poverty and inequality later this month, also found steady progress in reducing absolute poverty rates for children of single parents, in addition to increasing of the relative levels. Defined as income below a fixed poverty line, adjusted for inflation and household size, he suggested that this was unusual after years of steady earnings in the early 2000s.

“Low-income single parents depend especially on earnings income. These cuts in benefits have offset the increase in labor income in recent years, which has been significant for single parents,” he said.

Experts said the benefit limit introduced by George Osborne was one of the main factors of financial damage for single mothers. Photography: Stefan Rousseau / PA

Experts said the benefit limit, first imposed in 2013, and the freezing of benefits for four years, were among the main factors of economic harm to single mothers. Launched by former Chancellor George Osborne as a crackdown on those who claimed they were “living a life” with public assistance, the benefit limit restricts total benefits, including housing costs, to £ 20,000 a year for families outside London and £ 23,000 in the capital. , regardless of family needs.

Official figures released last month showed that 67% of limited households, or about 80,000, are single-parent families.

Alison Garnham, executive director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This alarming research is a wake-up call that shows the need for additional support for families with children in response to the cost of living crisis.

“It’s no surprise to see …

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