CES and Parenting NI launch report on financial plight of lone parents

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As part of Parenting Week (16th- 20th October) 2023, Parenting NI launched a research report produced by CES, entitled ‘The Impact of Financial Hardship on Single and Separated Parents in Northern Ireland’.

The research aimed to increase understanding of the nature of financial hardship experienced by single and separated parents and how this can affect different aspects of their lives, including their wellbeing, their children's wellbeing, parenting and opportunities to access employment.

CES conducted the research from April 2022 to September 2023, involving almost 300 parents through surveys, interviews and focus groups. Interviews were also convened with stakeholders, including service providers, policy experts and academics to explore their work with single and separated parents experiencing financial hardship.

The research found that more than half of separated parents are struggling financially while 40% are just “managing.” One single mum commented, “The cost of living is so high, it’s stopped us living our lives. We just seem to be existing. I’m sitting here with a duvet and blanket over me in the living room and I can still feel the cold”.

One of the most concerning findings was that parents described significant challenges just meeting their children’s basic needs - food, clothes and a warm home. Parents were also concerned about the impact of financial hardship on their children’s physical, mental and emotional needs, with 49% agreeing that it affected their child’s mental health and 42%, their child’s physical health.

Managing ongoing financial challenges evidently has a huge impact on parental health with over 91% of parents surveyed strongly agreeing that financial worries had an impact on their mental wellbeing and 77% reporting an impact on their physical wellbeing. Many parents experienced stress, anxiety and depression or reported having issues with sleep and diet, as well as a worsening of pre-existing conditions. The pressures of managing difficult financial circumstances also affected parents’ confidence and self-esteem while the stigma and discrimination attached to being a lone parent sometimes contributed to their reluctance to seek support.

Other key findings were that:

  • Employment options for single parents were limited due to the inflexibility or low paid nature of available jobs, a lack of affordable, accessible childcare and a lack of understanding from employers
  • Government benefits are generally inadequate, not allowing single parents to provide basic provisions for themselves and their children
  • Shielding their children from the potential impact of financial hardship was a key priority for parents
  • Single dads felt like they were viewed and treated differently to single mums and some found it more difficult to discuss financial difficulties due to a lack of representation and support for single and separated dads

Dr Alison Montgomery from CES, who led the research project, commented “The research findings indicate that many lone parents in Northern Ireland are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship and that this affects many aspects of their lives and their children’s lives. Many are trying to cope alone and struggling to access financial support, affordable childcare and information about benefits and other useful supports.”

Based on these findings, CES and Parenting NI made a series of recommendations for government and service providers which are intended to ensure better support is provided to single parents, including, specific financial support to benefit low-income families, improved employment opportunities for lone parents, opportunities for social connections, and advice on navigating the benefits system.  

You can read the report here

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