How can employers champion single mothers?

There are 1.8 million single parents in the UK, the vast majority of whom (nine out of 10) are women. Almost all are in work or want to work, and pre-pandemic single-parent employment hit record highs.  

Yet the unemployment rate is higher for single mothers than other groups, and major barriers to enter, re-enter or progress in work remain. Gingerbread research shows many are trapped in low-paid, insecure work, or are working below their skill level.  

Many would like to work more hours, but the high cost of childcare and lack of job flexibility limit their options. The pandemic hasn’t helped.  

Helping single parents in the workplace:

Can we escape the single parent trap?

How HR can support working parents

What is current best practice for working parents and carers?

Employers can reduce poverty by offering flexible work

Higher numbers of single parents experienced job losses, reductions in hours, or were put on furlough; affecting not just their finances but also future job security and placing them and their children at greater risk of poverty.    

On International Women’s Day it is important that this significant group of mothers are not left behind. Employers have a vital role to play in this by recognising the unique barriers single mothers face and supporting them in the workplace. 

Our research shows employers who actively support single mothers in how they design jobs, such as opening up job shares and opportunities to develop and train, not only ensure single-parent employees are able to gain meaningful work and job security, but those employees often spoke of their loyalty and commitment to their employers.  

Single mothers looking for work also talk positively about employers who are upfront and clear about options for flexibility in job adverts, saying they were much more likely to apply to organisations who were transparent about the flexibility on offer.  

Flexibility is just one way employers can support single mothers in the workplace. Childcare is one of the biggest barriers for single mothers to entering or progressing in work, with many having to front unaffordable fees before they even receive their first pay cheque.

Employers should explore mechanisms that can help single mothers tackle this hurdle. The Greater London Authority (GLA) childcare loan deposit scheme, developed in partnership with Gingerbread, has shown how practical measures can help attract and support low-income mothers into work.  

The GLA is working to get other employers to adopt the scheme across London through their Good Work Standard.  

Not supporting single mothers in the workplace means employers and the wider economy lose out on the skills that these employees can bring. Our research on in-work progression for single parents show single mothers often decide not to apply for roles suited to their skills and qualifications due to lack of flexibility.  

This includes mothers who have worked in managerial roles moving into cleaning roles because those are the only jobs offering hours that allow them to flex work with their childcare needs.  

With a record number of job vacancies and a skill shortage it is vital that employers make the most of the skills and experience of single mothers.  

It is Gingerbread’s plea on International Women’s Day that employers champion single mothers in the workplace by employing simple measures that can make a huge difference, like advertising jobs as flexible by default, and offering opportunities to progress that consider the barriers single mothers face.  

Laura Dewar is policy & research lead at Gingerbread the national charity for single-parent families


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