'As a group, we are stigmatised', says single parents' rights campaigner

Portrait photo of a smiling Ruth Talbot.

Hackney lone parent, Ruth Talbot, who set up the Single Parent Rights campaign. - Credit: Single Parent Rights

The council has backed calls to add single parents as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, following a campaign by a Hackney mother.

Hackney council is among more than 20 organisations across the UK to have backed the Single Parent Rights campaign set up by local resident Ruth Talbot, after she became “exasperated” by the lack of consideration for single parents during the pandemic.

Research by the campaign suggests prejudice and discrimination are widespread. Single parents face challenges with employment and housing, and miss out on savings for "family deals" on days out and trips, despite children in such households being more likely to live in poverty.

Employment laws already exist which protect married women but none specifically prevent employers from refusing or dismissing single parents on the basis of that characteristic. 

On January 27, the council unanimously passed a motion supporting the campaign, proposed by Cllr Soraya Adejare and seconded by Cllr Sophie Cameron.

It states that single parents deserve similar protections to the existing nine protected characteristics, which include age, disability, marriage or civil partnership and pregnancy or maternity.

The motion states that at a national level: “The legislative oversight in respect of single parents is a chasm which needs to be addressed.

Most Read

“We have a characteristic which is subject to systemic discrimination across every aspect of life, and it is unconscionable that these circumstances have existed for so long.”

There are around 1.8 million single parents in the UK and they make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children, according to single-parent families charity Gingerbread.

Ninety per cent of single parents are women and, the 2011 census revealed that Hackney has a higher rate of lone parent households (11pc) than the London average (7pc).

In some Hackney wards, the level of single parent households was shown to be over 20pc.

But while Gingerbread research shows most single parents are in paid employment, Hackney council data (2014) suggests children in lone parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty compared to those living in couple families.

Research also shows that single parent employment drops when children are young and childcare costs highest. 

Proud single mum Cllr Adejare said: “As a group of people, we are stigmatised.

“That being said, although a marginalised demographic, we come from a myriad of backgrounds and whilst acknowledging there is diversity in our lived experiences there is unquestionably commonality in respect to the inequalities and prejudice we face.

“We are economically and socially disadvantaged regardless of gender and, are subject to structures and systems which perpetuate this in areas such as employment or in accessing services or support.”

Hackney women councillors standing next to photograph of Hackney's first female mayor.

Standing next to the photograph of Hackney's first female mayor, Alderman Mrs F H Du Vergier (1943-44), councillors from left: Sem Moema, Caroline Selman, Soraya Adejare and Feryal Demirci. - Credit: Polly Hancock/Archant

Ruth Talbot told the Gazette a lack of "support bubbles" during the first lockdown put single parents at a huge disadvantage.

She said: "In the first national lockdown single parents were left to struggle alone without any consideration. This was not new though, single parents are often forgotten and discriminated against.

"We are overcharged for days out, pushed out of work by unsupportive employers, and prevented from renting houses. Yet despite this, we aren’t protected in UK law.”

The campaign persuaded the government to introduce single parent support bubbles after the initial lockdown, helping lone parents like Chantal, who preferred not to use her full name. 

The Hackney mother of a six-year-old boy said she lost her job with a supply teaching agency, which she said had concerns about childcare responsibilities during the first lockdown.

Chantal also had to defer her studies while she home schooled her child and said there was "no provision or thought" for parents like her who were "expected to singlehandedly keep household, children and everything afloat".

"Harshest experience of my life," she added. 

Chantal said: "We want our kids growing up in households with an equal chance at feeling as strong as any other non-single parent household."  

In response to calls to change the law, a spokesperson for the government's Equality Hub said: “The government has no plans to amend the Equality Act to include new protected characteristics, and many single parents may already be protected by the Equality Act.

"Estimates suggest 90pc of single parents are women. This means in many cases policies discriminating against single parents may constitute sex discrimination under the Act."

The government doubled childcare entitlement for eligible working parents of three and four year olds in 2017 and says it offers many forms of support, including paying up to 85pc of costs for childcare through Universal Credit.