The Impact of Financial Hardship on Single and Separated Parents
The research shows that some separated and single parents in Northern Ireland experience significant financial struggles or financial precarity, exacerbated by recent cost of living pressures. Based on a survey of 247 single parents, plus 39 participants in focus groups and interviews, findings include:
- Single and separated parents want to work but face obstacles in Northern Ireland, such as inflexible childcare, limited employment options, and a lack of understanding by employers about single parents’ needs;
- Social security is viewed by many single parents as essential. For those that qualified for social security support, levels are viewed as too low to meet needs. Benefits are seen as complex to access, poorly publicised and unreliable;
- Single parents with large families and parents with younger children were most the most likely groups to say they struggled financially, alongside ‘resident’ single parents: those with whom children lived most of the time, more often women.
Survey respondents said that financial struggles impacted their mental and physical wellbeing, and that of their children:
- 9 out of 10 said financial worries had impacted their mental wellbeing;
- Nearly 8 out of 10 said financial pressure had affected their physical health;
- Half said they felt their children’s mental health was impacted by financial hardship;
- Well over a third said they felt their children’s physical wellbeing was affected by financial hardship.
Parenting Northern Ireland makes recommendations, including:
- The Northern Ireland (NI) Executive should consider targeted support for one parent families, amongst introducing other financial support for low-income families;
- Government departments in Northern Ireland, local councils and the voluntary and community sectors need to make sure single parents get accurate information about benefits, support and information on what they are entitled to;
- Families need free access to emotional support and family mediation services for both parents, to help reduce separation costs: high legal fees and conflict have a lasting financial and parenting impact on families;
- The Department for Communities and other NI government departments need to improve employment opportunities and employment culture to support single parents with flexible, part-time jobs and a childcare strategy.