Interview with One Parent Families Scotland

Satwat Rahman, Director of One Parent Families Scotland, talks about how the families OPFS work with have been affected by the pandemic.

1.What have been the specific issues for the families you work with during the pandemic?

COVID-19 is a global public health crisis which has also resulted in an unparalleled economic catastrophe. Before this crisis single parent families already faced significant challenges: poverty, isolation and loneliness, poor health or disability and judgemental attitudes. Single parent families are twice as at risk of poverty as couples - 48% compared to 26%. A third (36%) of all children in poverty in Scotland live in a single parent family.

Financial concerns & poverty Some parents have no money to buy the basics - food and fuel poverty are a concern for many families. Debt problems are rising.

Digital exclusion: Many single parents lack IT equipment to allow them to connect to the outside world and worry that their children will fall behind with their schoolwork.

Housing: Housing is a huge concern for single parents. Issues include being able to pay rent, finding housing and rights when leaving an abusive partner.

Stress, anxiety and mental health As well as struggling with their own mental health, parents are finding it challenging to care for the mental health of their children. Many feel lonely and isolated. They are worried about the unknown risks of children returning to school and potential virus transmission, securing nursery places and the end to the furlough scheme. Huge backlogs in getting medical support e.g. Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are a worry for parents.

Child contact & Child Maintenance: For some parents the lack of financial support from their ex-partner means a poor standard of living and a struggle to provide for their children. Contact with their ex-partner can also be an issue with abusive ex partners not responding to letters from solicitors regarding contact and using timing of visits as a control mechanism. Some mothers fear that they will not get their children back after visits with their father.

  1. How have your services adapted and responded?

As the primary, and often only, source of support for many single parents OPFS has seen a huge increase in parents reporting concerns and facing emergencies around food, fuel and mental health. It has been crucial to offer ongoing support and reassurance.

We moved quickly at the start of the pandemic to adapt our services to digitally based models. This ensured continuity of our services and supported our staff to be able to respond to new demands created by the lockdown measures, for example providing food, fuel cards IT equipment in addition to family wellbeing support. There have been new challenges, including a lack of accessibility to on-line and digital-based services for some single parents.

OPFS administered emergency energy grants for single parent families to help with fuel bills. 1,900 applications and grants were approved and distributed; both funds were vastly over-subscribed.

In partnership with Save the Children, OPFS distributed approximately £42,000 worth of Emergency Grants to families. OPFS has also been supporting families by providing them with digital access with funding from the Scottish Government.

Supporting families’ wellbeing has been crucial and frontline workers report that this has increased in importance as time has gone on with a significant increase in parents using services and new referrals.

3. What are the issues arising for families that you work with now?

The crisis and day-to-day stress for single parents is ongoing.

The last six months have severely tested single parents’ resources and resilience and impacted on families’ wellbeing. Problems with access to training and education, rising levels of domestic violence, digital exclusion and ongoing financial concerns are just some of the issues raised by the pandemic and associated restrictions.

Parents are worried about the risk of the virus spreading, schools having to close again and the prospect of balancing home schooling with work and childcare commitments.

4. What needs to happen to help families that you work with now?

The Covid-19 Crisis offers a particular challenge for single parents and their children as they rely on one income and are without the support of another adult in the household to balance childcare arrangements. Nationwide measures and local lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus put huge pressures on single parents.

Urgent action is needed to better protect single parents and their children during the Covid-19 crisis. OPFS is calling on government at all levels, employers and businesses to provide extra help and support for single parents and their children at this challenging time.

This should include:

  • employment protection through extending furlough, job protection scheme and increasing flexibility with working arrangements
  • lifting child benefit by £10 per week per child and end the benefit cap and the two-child policy
  • increasing the benefit level for those on legacy benefits and make the £20 a week increase in UC permanent
  • halting job seeking requirements for single parents
  • ending the five week wait for Universal Credit
  • the UK Government filling the shortfall for any Child Maintenance arrangements during the crisis
  • ensuring that people are digitally included and that there is information offline for those who need it
  • money given to local authorities to respond to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 virus should target support to single parents and their children.

Understanding treatment from employers to keep single parents in work.