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The single parent debt trap

One in every four of our debt advice clients is a single parent despite single parents accounting for only 6% of UK households. Our latest report looks into what can be done to help.

Download the full report

We created this report with single parents’ charity Gingerbread to understand what can be done to prevent problem debt among single parents and support those affected.

Our research found that single parents have low financial resilience and are exposed to a high number of risk factors for problem debt.

Most single parents who experience problem debt have been affected by more than one factor, but these can be grouped into four main areas:

  1. Not enough income to cover living costs

    82% of single parents in problem debt cited ‘not enough income to meet living costs’ as a reason for using credit – they were almost twice as likely to cite this than any other reason.

    This struggle to make ends meet drives borrowing to pay for essentials like household bills, groceries and clothing for their children
  2. Relationship breakdown

    Just under half (44%) of single parents cited relationship breakdown or divorce as a reason for being in problem debt – common expenses included legal fees, moving home and the cost of disentangling finances
  3. Economic abuse

    48% of single parents in our survey sample had experienced some form of economic abuse by a former partner, including controlling the acquisition of money and resources, limiting how money and economic resources are used, and undermining the ability to maintain economic resources
  4. Life shocks

    Life shocks feature prominently in the reasons single parents cite for being in problem debt, including illness or disability (28%), moving home (17%) and unemployment (15%)

How can we fix this?

Our report sets out recommendations for the government to protect single parents against problem debt and support those affected.

Our recommendations can be grouped into three key priorities:

1. Making ends meet

Supporting single parents to make ends meet by:

  • Maintaining the £20 per week uplift put in place at the start of the pandemic
  • Extending support with childcare costs
  • Reforming the Child Maintenance Service to be more effective
  • Establishing a Minimum Income Commission, similar to the Minimum Wage Commission, with a statutory remit to advise the government on relinking the value of social security payments to living costs

2. Financial resilience

Supporting single parents to be financially resilient by:

  • Reforming the system of deductions from Universal Credit to repay debts
  • Better integrating the Help to Save scheme with Universal Credit
  • Extending access to grants and safe, affordable credit options to meet unexpected and unpredictable costs

3. Prevention of economic abuse

Preventing economic abuse and supporting victim-survivors by:

  • Financial Services implementing new vulnerability guidance effectively
  • Clarifying legal and regulatory changes to release survivors from liability for coerced debt
  • Working with the Financial Conduct Authority to prevent harm caused by domestic abuse involving regulated financial products

Want to know more?

If you'd like more information about the financial struggles facing many single parents and how we recommend these are addressed by the government, take a look at the full report.

Download the full report