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Single parents facing ‘rising tide of family hardship’, charity boss warns

Single parents are struggling with ‘isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts’ due to the cost of living crisis, the CEO Of One Parent Families Scotland has warned (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)
Single parents are struggling with ‘isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts’ due to the cost of living crisis, the CEO Of One Parent Families Scotland has warned (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

Single parents in Scotland have been left struggling with “isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts” amidst what a charity boss described as the “rising tide of family hardship”.

Satwat Rehman, the CEO of One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) spoke out as the charity published a new report, detailing the impact of the cost of living crisis on single parents and their children.

Scotland has about 144,000 single parent families – with 92% of these headed by women.

While OPFS said that almost four out of five (78%) single parents are in work, its Living Without a Lifeline report highlighted the “grinding poverty faced by many”.

A survey of 242 single parents carried out as part of that found almost all (97.9%) were feeling the impact of rising costs either significantly or to some extent.

More than three out of five (61.1%) of those who took part in the research said they were either finding it difficult to afford electricity or they could no longer afford this – with 58.1% in this position for gas.

Over two fifths (43.7%) said they were finding it difficult to pay for food, or could no longer afford to do so.

Meanwhile, more than a fifth (21.1%) said they could no longer afford to buy clothes, while 22.3% can not afford to pay for travel, and 21.1% no longer have the money for childcare.

The report looked at the impact of the cost of living crisis on single parents in Scotland (Jacob King/PA)

Almost four out of 10 single parents in the survey (37.4%) said their finances had decreased in the last year.

But even among those whose finances had stayed the same or increased, one in three (34.8%) say they were finding it extremely difficult or can no longer afford food – with about half in this position with regard to paying for electricity (52.2%), gas (52.9%), or travel (49.6%).

Speaking about the report, Ms Rehman said: “Living without a lifeline is exactly what so many single parents who took part in our research and who reach out to our services every day say they are doing, which is why we chose this as the title for our report.”

She added: “Women who are single parents have been particularly hard hit by the economic storm that has engulfed us and, with women’s poverty being inextricably linked to child poverty, we are living amid a rising tide of family hardship.

“Single parents described the day-to-day struggle to afford food and fuel, and the need to make sacrifices to ensure that children’s basic needs were met. In some cases, mothers go without food and struggle to pay essential bills. Isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts were described.”

To help single parents, OPFS wants the Scottish Government to increase support to some of the poorest young parents, by topping up the Scottish Child Payment which goes to help low income families.

Holyrood ministers are also being urged to double planned “bridging payments” due to be paid to those with children in receipt of free school meals to £260, as well as increase benefits set in Scotland by the rate of inflation.

The UK Government, meanwhile, is being challenged to “introduce progressive tax measures to reduce inequality” and to take “emergency interventions” to help low income families amid the cost of living crisis.

Westminster should also “invest in a social security system that prevents child poverty, treating single parent families with dignity and respect,” OPFS said.

In the survey, more than two thirds (68.3%) of single parents said improving benefits such as Universal Credit was in their top three priorities for action.

The second most common demand was for the benefit cap to be ended, a move supported by 46.3%, while 29.3% said single parents should be “valued and treated equally”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Universal Credit should be paid at the same amount, no matter the age of the person applying. This would help many people and families who are facing hardship due to this age discrimination that the UK Government has introduced.

“This is in contrast to the significant support the Scottish Government is supplying to all low income parents.

“By the end of 2022, the Scottish Government’s package of five family payments will be worth over £10,000 for eligible families on the lowest incomes by the time their first child turns six – and £9,700 for subsequent children.

“This includes the Scottish Child Payment which we doubled to £20 per child per week in April and will increase again to £25 when we extend it to under-16s by 14 November – a 150% rise.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable families across England, Scotland and Wales with at least £1,200 of direct payments and saving households an average of £1,000 a year through our new Energy Price Guarantee.

“Through our £37bn support package we are saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn, while all households will receive £400 energy payments.

“Our nationwide jobcentres, including those based in Scotland, are also focused on boosting the long-term employment prospects of lone parents receiving benefits – helping them access flexible opportunities, new sectors and higher-paid roles through job progression support, and paying up to 85% of childcare costs through Universal Credit.”