Info & Advice

Are single parents discriminated against, and what can you do about it?

Request a Free Consultation with a Solicitor

There are an estimated 2.9 million single parents in the UK with most government policy discussions focussing on persistent levels of poverty and issues around employment. However, very little has been given to the discriminatory environment within which single parents exist and how this impacts on them and their children.

In 2020, the Single Parents Rights campaign group carried out an extensive online survey which found that 80% of single parents regularly experienced some form of discrimination. But how does this discrimination manifest, and can anything be done to combat it? We take a look.


There is a societal assumption that single parents are all jobless teenagers sponging off the state with a council house, 55 inch TV, and the latest mobile phone. The majority of these claims are unfounded, since the greater part is in some form of paid employment.

Single parents are much more likely to have low incomes, whether that is from working zero-hours contracts, low-skilled work, or being on certain welfare benefits which have been impacted by inflation and welfare reforms. Despite the vast majority being in work, single parents have seen the fastest growth in poverty, with the numbers of lone mothers living in destitution increasing between 2017 and 2019.

Whilst single parent employment is at a record high of almost 70%, the poverty rate is the highest it has ever been, and is reflected in the increased use of food banks. Single parents face many challenges in the workplace, which can be amplified by an unsympathetic employer who fails to appreciate and recognise the difficultly in balancing working life with parental responsibilities. This issue then translates into poorer outcomes for children brought up in single parent households, affecting attainment levels over the course of their school life.

Employment laws already exist which protect married women in the workplace, but there are none that specifically prevent employers from refusing or dismissing single parents on the basis of that characteristic. Although the government currently has no plans to amend the Equality Act to include a new single parent characteristic, employers should ensure they do not overlook single parents and make a conscious effort to maintain flexibility. This will also have the knock on effect of changing societal attitudes and promote employment practices that value the contribution single parent employees make.

Access to Housing

Landlords are often reluctant to let properties to single parents, particularly those with small children. Research by the homeless charity Shelter found that 19% of single parents have been unable to rent somewhere for this reason. The vast majority related to private rental properties, where single parents are regularly discriminated against both because of their status and for their reliance on housing benefit. The government has sought to address these issues in the Renters Reform Bill, which includes the following protections:

  • Scrapping section 21 “no fault” evictions
  • Making it illegal for landlords and letting agents to refuse to rent properties to people who receive benefits or have children
  • Create a national landlord register through a new property portal giving renters the information they need before entering into a tenancy agreement
  • Introduce new grounds for eviction for landlords who genuinely want to sell their property or move back in

The bill will be brought to parliament where MPs can scrutinise it and make any changes. They will then decide whether to pass it into law.

Access to finances

The most common problem financial area is access to mortgages, credit cards, loans, and other finance products. This means that single parents often find it difficult to buy their own home and find they are excluded from products with the best rates, consequently spending more on interest rates than their married or cohabiting counterparts.

Many single parents find they experience mortgage affordability issues, yet pay a higher monthly amount towards their rent. To add to the difficulties, there are several high street mortgage providers who do not take Universal Credit or child maintenance payments into account in affordability assessments. All factors which either directly or indirectly discriminate against single parents.

It is widely believed that in order to combat this unfairness, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should be granted statutory authority by the government to monitor and address lenders financial inclusion policies and practices surrounding single parent borrowers. On a more practical and proactive level, there’s not much that can be done personally other than shopping around.

What is the impact of single parent discrimination?

Discrimination can affect single parents in several ways. These include:

  • Negatively impacting on mental health, and risk of mental or physical harm
  • Increasing outgoings/expenses
  • Lower income
  • Negatively impact ability to work in paid employment
  • Negatively impact ability to parent
  • Place you or leave you in unsuitable housing
  • Use of food banks or going without food
  • Negatively affect career progression

Many single parents feel that the negative cycle triggered by experiencing discrimination often affects in other areas of their life, such as how society viewed and treated them. This then affected their mental wellbeing, which impacted on their entire family. Arguably, this places an additional financial strain on the state and employers in terms of time off ill, mental health medications, an inability to get back into work because of lack of affordable childcare, and the costs associated with out of work benefits payments.

Below are some suggestions which could vastly improve the lives of single parent families:

  • Legal protection from discrimination
  • Fairer pricing structure for single parent families
  • Flexible working
  • More affordable and flexible childcare
  • Improved workplace polices and practices to support single parents
  • Respect and support from professionals, such as job centre staff
  • Recognition of all types of family
  • Increased understanding of the challenges facing single parents
  • Ending the stigma and judgment of single parents

Without widespread policy change, it is likely that single parents will continue to be at the mercy of discriminatory landlords, unfair access to finances, pricing structures, and insecure low paid employment, with little opportunity for professional development. The impact of discrimination against single parents is wide ranging, but there is a positive story too. One of determined, tenacious parents working hard to improve their lives, both for themselves and their children.

Related Articles

Load More

Podcast: Listen Now