In this week’s blog, our CEO discusses the psychological impact of COVID-19, particularly on single parents
We are all aware of the physical impact of COVID-19 and know the necessary precautions we should be taking in order to reduce our risks. What is less well documented are the psychological impacts. The measures implemented for the physical safety of everyone have had significant negative consequences for the mental health of many, particularly single parents.
Prior to the pandemic, it was already reported that single parents experienced higher levels of stress and almost 30% of single parents reported concerns with their mental health, double that of coupled parents. The challenges that lockdown brought with it, including lack of childcare, job insecurity, financial strain, loneliness and lack of work-life balance, makes for a perfect storm.
The exceptionally high weekly costs of sending a child to nursery (average being £242 per week and £59 for after school clubs) means many single parents rely on family members to support with childcare. So when lockdown began on March 23rd, households could no longer mix, grandparents were often shielding and schools/nurseries closed, so many single parents were left stranded. In addition, parents were expected to take on the role of teacher at home. The challenge of fulfilling your child’s education needs as well as your job role at home or going out to work meant that parents had little choice but to reduce their hours, be placed on furlough or take unpaid leave.
With every option given, there was a financial penalty to pay. Almost half of single parent families live in poverty and in recent reports, it has stated that half of families with young children in the UK struggled to make ends meet in the first three months of lockdown. Already strained incomes are being budgeted on a strict month-to-month basis, but reductions in pay will now cause massive increases in debt.
Close family and friends can no longer call round for a social visit, causing many to become socially isolated, even with the changes in guidance now, it is said that temporary loneliness has been linked to long term mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. For many, social interactions were reduced to a simple transaction at the till or a weekly zoom call, if the time could be found whilst trying to entertain children that were now at home 24/7. Houses with a single adult are now allowed to form a support bubble with another household, and predictably so many single parents chose whichever household could assist with childcare. As these relationships are now fitting the role of childminder and friend/parent, it is bound to cause a strain between both households.
It is easy to see how the long-lasting impact of COVID-19 on jobs, finances and socialising are undoubtedly going to result in long-lasting effects on mental wellbeing, in particular when the burden is being felt by a single parent. Even now as lockdown has lifted, for many single parents the childcare problems remain, the debts accumulated over the last few months will takes years to repay and social lives have been impacted for the foreseeable future. The lack of certainty over the next steps comes with its own set of issues, as areas like most of Greater Manchester remain in ‘local lockdown’ and single parents are back at square one as the question arises over whether family can still assist with childcare if the guidance states we cannot visit another house or garden; only this time, some parents have already returned to work.
The Government, employers and communities need to assess whether the level of support that was available to single parents during the course of lockdown was sufficient and what needs to be done moving forward to help them transition back to work, recover financially and most significantly, improve their mental wellbeing and the life chances of their children.