One Year On: How the Pandemic Impacted Single Parents More Than MostBy Jo Middleton
This week marks the anniversary of the start of the first UK lockdown on March 23rd 2020. One year on, Frolo examines the impact of the pandemic on single parents and how they have been disproportionately affected by lockdown measures.
The last 12 months have been like nothing we’ve experienced before. We’ve faced uncertainty, seemingly endless homeschooling, isolation and tragic numbers of deaths. But what has been the impact of the pandemic on single parents?
The effect of coronavirus has gone way beyond hospital admission figures – the economy has taken a battering, our collective mental health is in crisis and thousands and thousands of people are living in poverty.
While many diverse groups of people have felt the full force of the virus, one group that has been hit disproportionately hard is single parents.
Being in a single parent can be tough at the best of times – many single parents would say they’ve been stuck in their own personal lockdown for years now already, feeling isolated and lonely, managing family life alone – but being in the midst of a global pandemic brings a new level of challenge to parenting solo.
This certainly seems to be the experience within the Frolo community. With nearly 20,000 registered users, the Frolo app is perfectly positioned to capture single parent experiences during lockdown and we’ve seen first hand just how our users have struggled.
Single parents like Dani, a mum of three who usually has a good co-parenting relationship with her children’s father.
“My ex-husband works as a paramedic,” explains Dani, “and normally he sees as much as possible of our children when he’s not working. When the first lockdown hit though we were both really concerned about our middle daughter, who is severely asthmatic. We decided initially that he should stay away to protect her, as he still had to work and was potentially coming into contact with the virus every day.
“It felt like a good idea at the time, when we thought it might only be very short term, but it quickly became very difficult indeed. I work full-time, and although I was able to work from home I was never furloughed. Suddenly I found myself trying to homeschool three children of different ages AND work a full time job with absolutely no help at all. I was staying up into the early hours and then getting up early, to try and fit work around the kids.”
Dani is certainly not the only single parent who has felt themselves buckling under the pressure of trying to juggle work and home-schooling at the same time as maintaining sanity. So many of the posts in the Frolo community have been from parents at the end of their tether, getting by one day at a time, but feeling like any one of them could be the day that they crack.
“I knew that my ex was doing an incredibly stressful job,” admits Dani, “but I couldn’t help but feel resentful knowing that when he wasn’t working he was able to recharge. I saw my married friends too, many of whom had been furloughed, sharing pictures on social media of their two-parent home-schooling activities. They talk about feeling exhausted, but at least they have another adult to share the burden with. You really don’t know exhausted until you’re months into lockdown, completely on your own with three kids. I’m completely burnt out, I’m not sleeping well and I’ve even noticed my hair starting to fall out.”
Many single parents would say they’ve been stuck in their own personal lockdown for years now already, feeling isolated and lonely, managing family life alone.
It’s not just physically and emotionally that single parents have been hit – financially as a community we’ve been disproportionately at a disadvantage. Many single parents have had maintenance payments reduced or stopped completely and a lot have had to take a cut in hours at work, or give up work completely, to be able to manage childcare and schooling alone.
According to research from Gingerbread and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), single parents were already at a financial disadvantage, even before Covid-19, and the impact of the pandemic on single parents financially has been severe. In early 2020 single parents were less financially secure and on lower incomes than other family types, with mothers in coupled households earning almost twice as much per week as single mothers. Single parents were also twice as likely to be on zero hours contracts, making them especially vulnerable to job insecurity.
When the virus hit, it hit single parents hard. One study conducted last year found that the earnings of single parents had fallen by more than double the amount experienced by households with children and more than one adult.
Research published with month by Single Parent Rights has further highlighted the discrimination faced by single parents, particularly during the pandemic. The research found that 58% of single parents were reliant on Universal Credits compared with 10% of coupled families in August 2020 and it drew on findings from Gingerbread that showed that single parents have been disproportionately furloughed and lost their jobs through the pandemic due to the “double impact” on single parents who are more likely to be working in Covid-hit sectors and have experienced greater challenges in working through the closure of schools and childcare.
“There was no provision or thought for families with just one adult in them during the covid lockdown,” said one of the parents surveyed by Single Parent Rights. “It was traumatic to be expected to single handedly keep household, children and everything afloat and somehow thriving in the massively extenuating circumstances, with no family, no friends and no contact even with neighbours allowed. It was the harshest experience of my life.”
It’s been incredible to see everyone come together via the Frolo app to support each other by hosting virtual meetups, reaching out to those who are struggling, and offering much needed friendship and support.
Despite the immense pressures, single parents have shown amazing levels of determination and resilience, and there are positive stories to have come out of the pandemic. Nickala Torkington is a co-founder of a social enterprise called Flourish Together which invests its surplus resources in women as a force for social change. Around a quarter of the 750 women they have supported to date are single mums.
“At the start of lockdown I was exhausted,” says Nickala, “a single mum working full time running 2 companies and travelling the length and breadth of the country some days, alongside juggling the school run and drop offs at hobbies with very little time at home. I have to say in spite of the horrors and fall out of the pandemic lockdown has been a Godsend. My lockdown came nearly a decade ago so dealing with the emotional, practical and financial challenges of 2020 was the norm for me.”
“I am so grateful for the year I have had with my teenage son, a really precious opportunity and a chance to realign certain aspects of my business, plus spend some time ‘Bubbled up’ with my parents. We’ve also been forced to do so much more virtually and created swathes of digital resources which the women in our network have been crying out for us to do for years – making supporting them to develop community and social ventures much more accessible.”
Throughout the pandemic Nickala and her team have supported over 100 women to develop social and ethical businesses in and around Greater Manchester and have just won a ‘Highly Commended’ award for Innovation in the Northern Power Women Awards. “It has been great to be able to use my experience, knowledge and advantage to positive effect this year and support so many women to remain hopeful and resilient plus gain tools to increase their economic independence for the future.”
We’ve seen it too in the Frolo community, the resourcefulness of single parents and the tireless commitment to keeping a secure and happy family home. It’s been incredible to see everyone come together via the Frolo app to support each other by hosting virtual meetups, reaching out to those who are struggling, and offering much needed friendship and support.
What the last twelve months have shown is the incredible work being done by single parents across the UK and Ireland, parents who are juggling so much by themselves, in extreme circumstances, but finding the strength to keep going.
Because that’s what we do as single parents isn’t it? We keep going.
*Name has been changed