Living without a Lifeline – a shocking snapshot of the crisis facing single parent families in Scotland

OPFS releases new research report based on survey of 260 single parents



Feedback from 260 single parents highlights their experiences and priorities, which includes cost of living, family finances, social security, childcare, employment, access to education, mental health and wellbeing, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19.

Download Living without a Lifeline - summary report Download Living without a Lifeline - full report

Findings showed:

  • 78% of single parents are in work and the same percentage of single parents receive a social security benefit.
  • Almost all (97.9%) of participants said they felt the impact of rising costs.
  • Three in five (61.1%) of participants said they are finding it either extremely difficult to afford or could no longer afford electricity, while 58.1% said the same about gas, and 43.7% said the same about food.
  • More than one in five participants said they can no longer afford to buy clothes (21.2%), pay for travel (22.3%) or childcare (21.2%) at all.
  • Most participants in the research were women, which is in keeping with the national statistic that 92% of single parent households are headed by women.

The findings of the research and the proposals for policy change suggested by single parents themselves have been used to produce a series of recommendations.

OPFS is calling on the Scottish Government to:

  • Increase support to families with young parents who are the poorest in Scotland through a top-up to the Scottish Child Payment.
  • Double the planned “bridging payments” for families with children in receipt of free school meals from £130 to £260.
  • Uprate Scotland’s 8 social security payments by the rate of inflation – 10% in August 22 and predicted by the Bank of England to hit 13.3% in October.
  • Widen eligibility for school clothing grants and free school meals to all families on Universal Credit by legislating to remove all income thresholds.
  • Increase the value and widen eligibility to the new Scottish Carer’s Assistance payment so it reaches many more Carers.
  • Raise increased finances through devolved taxes. Since 2017, the Scottish Parliament has had the ability to set income tax rates and bands, apart from the personal allowance. We also support IPPR’s call for radical reform of council tax to make it fairer and to raise extra finance for public services.

OPFS says the UK Government should:

  • Introduce progressive tax measures to reduce inequality.
  • Tackle the immediate cost-of-living crisis for low-income families with emergency interventions.
  • Introduce single parents’ rights and protection from discrimination into law.
  • Invest in a social security system that prevents child poverty, treating single parent families with dignity and respect.
  • Make childcare work for single parents by enhancing support for childcare costs through Universal Credit.
  • Support single parents into well paid, family friendly employment.
  • Make the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) fairer and fit for purpose.

Satwat Rehman, OPFS CEO 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.

“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.

“The parents responding have also forcefully described the policy areas which must be prioritised by government to tackle poverty and support family wellbeing and the priority areas where we at OPFS need to focus our energies. Over the coming year, these priorities will be our priorities.”

One key theme raised by participants was the difficulty in meeting the demands to pay for uniforms, school trips, and the many other requirements for daily school life. While costs are rising across the board, support for families in these areas is not increasing, leading to an even greater drain on household budgets.

A single mum who took part in the research said:

“There is always something extra to pay for – sponsored events, book fairs, craft fairs, Christmas fairs, Halloween costume, Red Nose Day, Christmas jumper, wear a certain colour for sports day, world book day costume etc… Parental events are held either during working hours or in the evening so I feel excluded as I can’t afford a babysitter- shame online events aren’t continuing.”

The research also found that single parents were struggling to afford to pay for essentials regardless of whether they were in paid work and that support through social security did not go far enough.

One single parent commented:

“I just feel that I’m totally on my own financially. We can’t claim free school meals or any grants because I’m not on benefits (except Child Benefit). Outgoings are increasing, I am as frugal as I can be, my pay was frozen for 3 years and now I have a 2% cost of living increase, better than nothing! Children’s father has not contributed a penny for years now. Feel forgotten about. I cut my own hair, I skip meals, I scrimp on heating etc so I can pay the mortgage etc. There is no support for us from anyone.”

Some single parents contributing to the research shared their experiences of living with unmanageable levels of debt, often as a result of losing their job, illness or economic abuse following a relationship breakdown and not having savings to act as a buffer.

One single mum said:

“Father used to pay maintenance when he felt like it, but now has a limited company to avoid declaring his actual income. I can’t afford anything and feel like I’m stuck in debt forever. Utilities went from £90 to £160 and is only going to rise.”