Coronavirus: Experts warn single parents will be hit hard by outbreak

Charities are being ‘inundated’ with calls from single parents across the UK in desperate need of help because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 11:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 11:36 am

With schools closed, homes in lockdown and job insecurity rife, experts are warning these families will be hit hard by the outbreak.

In Sussex it is estimated there are 41,464 lone parents with dependent children, according to the Annual Population Household Survey (using 2018 weighting).

Aneliese Whittaker is a community fundraiser and marketing co-ordinator at Crawley based family charity Home-Start CHAMS.

Aneliese Whittaker and Logan

The charity covers the Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex area and is dedicated to helping families with children under five.

Aneliese, who lives in Horley, said she is also a single parent to seven-year-old Logan, who has ADHD and autism.

She added: “We have been working from home since last Monday.

“It’s just me and my son at home.

Foods that you can freeze

“If I needed anything I haven’t really got anyone that could help.

“I had quite a major house leak on Friday. It’s things like that – if anything is to go wrong or if I need anything over the next couple of months I have just got to figure it out on my own.”

Aneliese said Logan can’t stay with his dad because there are other at risk people in the house.

She added that she has to juggle Logan’s schooling with running the house, looking after Logan and her work.

She said she has had to plan in case her or Logan come down with the coronavirus.

There are around 1.8 million lone parents across the UK.

The Government has pledged to support the most vulnerable households.

‘How can you work from home and look after your children at the same time?’

The charity Gingerbread helps single mothers and fathers across England and Wales.

Its chief executive, Victoria Benson, said they had seen an influx of calls from anxious parents in response to the outbreak.

She said: “Our helplines for the local groups have been overwhelmed with single parents asking, what do they do, as well as practical questions about isolation and lots of financial issues, as well as lots of issues about maintenance and issues with the non-resident parent.”

And with schools across the country now closed indefinitely, Benson said she was very concerned that single parents will have to juggle multiple roles within households.

She added: “We’re all expected to look after our children from home but most single parents can’t work from home. Even if you are paid to work from home, how can you work from home and do your job and look after your children at the same time?”

Despite an initial period of confusion, the Government has clarified that children under 18 with separated parents can continue to visit both parents throughout the lockdown.

A spokeswoman for Home-Start CHAMS added: “Isolation is something that many of our families state as an issue for them at the best of times and when we reluctantly suspended our face to face provision last week – halting temporarily both our home visiting and group support – we knew that as the situation progressed families would feel ever more isolated within their own homes.

“We are therefore focusing on ways that we can offer some emotional support - together with information, tips and options - for families with children under five who need a friendly contact via phone, Whats App, text, email or some other form of video communication to help them to cope with the isolation and challenges they are facing. Our service is confidential, free and non-judgemental. We all need someone to talk to sometimes.”

The charity is also offering regular Facebook updates – to find out more email [email protected]

Single parents ‘will undoubtedly be hit hard’

Satwat Rehman, director of the charity One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS), said they too had seen an increase in demand for help since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Scotland has approximately 135,000 single parent families with dependents.

Satwat said: “OPFS is being inundated with queries from single parents concerned and anxious about their children if they become ill, feeling further isolated as a result of the necessary measures being put in place to slow the spread of the virus, their employment, money, benefits, feeding their children, being able to get out to the shops etc.”

In Northern Ireland, there are more than 60,000 single parent families with dependents. Charlene Brooks, chief executive of the charity Parenting NI, warned that single parents “will undoubtedly be hit hard” by the pandemic and its wider effects.

‘Pushed into poverty’

Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures to support businesses and low income families, including an increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credits.

He said: “Together these measures will benefit over four million of our most vulnerable households.”

However, charities have warned that a lack of support could further push cash-strapped families into poverty.

“Our local government needs to consider what action they can take to support this already very vulnerable group of parents,” Brooks said.

“There is an urgent need to look at how more financial and emotional support could be provided during this crisis to avoid families being pushed into poverty.”

Rehman added: “We need to ensure that authorities are considering the needs of single parents in their planning and prioritisation of services and to ensure our benefits system anchors us all from the rising tide of poverty.”