More single parents sliding into poverty – ‘families won’t have food this winter’

Watch ITV News reporter Sarah Corker's full investigation on how the cost of living crisis is affecting single-income families

“It makes me angry, how are we supposed to live? I’m a single parent, I have a daughter to look after. Financially it doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better, there’s no light at end of the tunnel.”

Mother-of-one Shameen Symes from Bradford has seen her rent increased by £100, her energy bill doubled and the weekly food shop soar - but her wages and in-work benefits haven’t kept pace with inflation.

She’s a support worker for adults with learning disabilities and earning minimum wage.

ITV News has been following two school communities in Bradford and Wakefield throughout the Autumn term as teachers step in to help struggling families like never before.

For the last two years, the Wakefield-based charity Penny Appeal has helped Shameen and her nine-year-old daughter Nevaeh with emergency food parcels and school uniform costs.

“I get tax credits and child benefits but once you’ve paid everything and done your shopping, it’s ridiculous, there is nothing left over at the end. Politicians want to come and live in our shoes, live off what we live on, and then they’d know how hard it is,” she told ITV News.

'There's no light at the end of the tunnel... I think it's disgusting'

After a decade of cuts to welfare, research by the IFS reveals that child poverty in single-parent households has risen by almost 10%.

Women make up 90% of single-parent families and are increasingly turning to schools for help as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies.

Victoria Benson CEO at Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, told ITV News: "Despite the majority of single parents being in work too many are trapped on low incomes and forced to rely on welfare support.

"Half of all children in single parent families already live in poverty and there's no doubt that, without urgent intervention, this number will rise."

Exclusive figures from the Penny Appeal charity shared with ITV News reveal there’s been a 431% growth in the number of food parcels sent to schools and community hubs in 2022, compared to a year ago.

They normally focus on international causes but have diverted resources to the UK as the cost of living crisis spirals out of control.

'Never have I seen it this bad'

“Never have I seen it this bad to be honest, it’s rising daily, and it saddens me to know families won’t have food this winter,” Ridwarna Wallace-Laher, Senior Director of Growth, told me as a Penny Appeal van arrived to drop off hundreds of food parcels at a school in Bradford.

“If we go back to a few years ago, schools didn’t have to do this. The reality is we’ve got parents who are not eating so that they can feed their kids, and these are people who are working more than one job. It’s shocking.”

20 miles away in Wakefield, staff at Outwood Primary Academy Park Hill are up at dawn to make sure pupils are fed at the daily breakfast club, free fresh fruit and vegetables are left at reception for families to pick up and a second hand uniform shop helps to keep costs down.

The school is at the heart of the Eastmoor council estate which has a strong sense of community, but there are also pockets of severe deprivation.

Laura Winterburn, associate vice principal at Outwood Central Cluster, lists the kind of things the community has called for

Mother-of-one Tammy Walshaw went to the same primary school that her five-year-old daughter April now attends. As a single parent, she welcomes the extra support from schools.

“Everything is so expensive in the shops. If you don’t laugh, you’d cry right now.”

As a self-employed cleaner Tammy’s work is drying up as people cut back on spending due to rising cost of living.

“I used have loads of bookings. I used to have five hours a day, now they can’t afford it and it’s only one hour, it’s not adding up to what it should have been. That’s why I’m looking for something else,” she said.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We are delivering at least £1,200 of support to families, including single-parent households, to help with the cost of living this winter.

"On top of that, single-parents are set to save an average of £700 this winter thanks to our Energy Price Guarantee.

"We are also committed to boosting the long-term employment prospects of single parents by paying up to 85% of childcare costs through Universal Credit.

"Our network of Jobcentres continue to help millions access flexible opportunities, new sectors and higher-paid roles through job progression support."