The mother who successfully campaigned for Dominic Cummings to change lockdown restrictions for single parents has said the economic future of one-parent families such as hers risks being set back years by the pandemic if they do not receive targeted help.
Ruth Talbot, founder of the campaign group Single Parent Rights, said the “systematic discrimination which goes back generations” would worsen as a result of the impact of the coronavirus. This is unless urgent action is taken to reduce these inequalities, including adding single parents to the Equality Act as a protected characteristic.
Talbot said that “although the pandemic had brought about challenges for all families, for single parents in particular it has highlighted just how invisible we are”. The pandemic represented a turning point in regards to tackling the structural barriers and inequalities single parents faced, she added. Single mothers make up 90% of lone-parent household in the UK.
A report by the campaign group, which has revealed the extent of discrimination against single parents, found that among a group of 1,083 respondent to a survey:
Four-fifths of single parents had experienced a type of discrimination, with 59% experiencing employment discrimination and half experiencing discrimination in relation to coronavirus lockdown rules and restrictions.
Single parents who were living with a disability, or from an ethnic minority background, or on a lower income all experienced greater levels of discrimination.
54% of single parents reporting a negative impact on their children’s mental health.
96% of single parent respondents supported the addition of single parents as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act.
Ashley Fraser, a mother of two from Northern Ireland, was furloughed from her administrator role at the beginning of lockdown. When workplaces and schools began to reopen, she asked her employers if her working schedule could be changed to accommodate this. The request was refused, and so was her request for her furlough to be extended.
“I was left with no other option but to request eight weeks unpaid parental leave,” said 39-year-old Fraser. “But for it to be agreed I was told I would have to work Saturdays once I returned, which I disagreed with because it was a change to my contracted hours.
“By this time, I was becoming more and more upset and frustrated. The lack of support from them was extremely distressing.”
Although Fraser’s employer eventually agreed to her request of unpaid leave, she was told to return to work almost a month earlier or to face her job being advertised externally. A few weeks later, Fraser received a notice of redundancy which she believes was a direct result of her status as a single parent. She considered taking legal action but found that “there isn’t a law for single-parent discrimination in the workplace”.
The report includes a series of recommendations which should be implemented in order to tackle single parent discrimination, including making flexible working the default for all jobs, and installing single parents within the Equality Act under protected characteristics.
Talbot said: “We see coronavirus as a turning point to break down the barriers single parents face. We think that without the equality law change, then single parents will forever not be considered as a marginalised group.”
Caroline Noakes, chair of the women and equalities select committee, welcomed the research, saying it gave a “very clear picture of those ongoing challenges” faced by single parents.
She added that during an inquiry which looked at the gendered economic impact of coronavirus, a great deal of evidence was heard about how single parents had struggled. “We know 80-90% of them are women and it is not just during the pandemic that they face barriers that those in two-parent families do not,” she added.
Rupa Huq, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on single-parent families, said the “painstakingly complied report” painted a “disturbing picture of the multiple discriminatory barriers and hurdles faced by single parents today”.