Single dads face big challenges when it comes to things like work and housing. So what can we do about it – and might the Equality Act help?
Talk of single parents tends to focus on single mums, but single dads are a growing group which policy-makers and employers need to better understand if these families are to thrive. Single dads officially make up 14% of single parents in the UK, yet this statistic undercounts the number of single dads actively raising their children because it doesn’t include those parents who share care but are not classed as the ‘main carer’.
Recent research from the campaign group Single Parent Rights found that 80% of the 1000+ single parents who completed the survey had experienced discrimination, including 16% who reported ‘maybe’ and went on to provide details of the discrimination. Like all single parents, single dads faced discrimination across all areas, from the lack of single parent family tickets for days out, to unsupportive employers.
Single dads who were sole carers often found that employers saw their childcare responsibilities in a negative light and some single dads reported being excluded from career progression opportunities and pushed out of work.
Gary, a single dad from the Wirral, was working in a call centre when he became the sole carer for his three-month-old son. From that moment on Gary was refused overtime. “They favoured giving overtime to people who they knew could do it even though I did say I was available most days for overtime,” says Gary. “There was no reason to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Occasionally Gary had to take time off due to childcare issues or hospital appointments for his young son, but instead of being understanding and discussing ways to support him, Gary’s employer handled it as a disciplinary matter. Three months after becoming a single dad, Gary’s employment was terminated on the basis that he had been given too much time off and he has been unable to find secure employment since.
Housing is also a big challenge for single dads living in social housing/ private rentals and sharing care of their children with the other parent. While shared care set-ups are becoming more common in cases where there are two parents who do not live together, the system doesn’t take into account these personal circumstances and operates from the assumption that the child only has one home.
For those living in social housing it can make it impossible to access housing with enough rooms to house their children even when they stay with them up to 50% of the time. For others who do have a room for their child(ren), they are often charged the bedroom tax because the room is considered a luxury, not a necessity. Meanwhile, those who rent are sometimes unable to afford a home with the space needed because there is no support towards the additional rooms. This leaves some single dads and their children in overcrowded conditions.
This lack of understanding from the state that a child can have two homes, can also lead to one parent struggling to access necessary support and adaptations for their child in the case of additional needs. Single dad Pete Johnson has two children aged 15 and eight. Between 2017 and 2019 Pete had to fight his local council in Barnsley to secure a safe space bed for his youngest Jamie who has multiple additional needs including epilepsy and autism because support for medical adaptations was only available for one home.
Single parents are coming together to say enough is enough. While those who are married can rely on the Equality Act for protection from discrimination, single parents are not afforded the same rights despite facing discrimination in multiple areas.
The campaign group Single Parent Rights is calling on the UK government to add single parents to the Equality Act. They have already garnered the support of thousands of single parents and over twenty parenting groups in the UK, including Dads Unlimited, a charity that supports single dads.
Nav Mirza who runs the latter organisation, says, “Single parents, dads and mums, face a plethora of challenges in their daily lives – chief amongst them is the ability to balance their working life with their parental duties. This becomes even more difficult if your employer fails to appreciate and recognise this dichotomy. The issue then translates into poorer outcomes for those children who are being brought up in single parent households, in that their parents struggle to ‘climb the career ladder’ and then a genuine aspiration disappointingly turns into a mere wish to improve oneself.
“A key to remedying this problem is to protect the status of those single parent working families, so that aspiration and achievement becomes obtainable. And how do you do this? By including single parent status as a protected characteristic within the Equality Act. Thereby, ensuring that employers do not overlook single parents, and make a conscious effort to recognise them within the workforce. This will also have the knock-on effect of changing societal attitudes and employment practices that value the contribution single parent employees make.”
If you want to learn more about the Single Parent Rights campaign for single parents to be added to the Equality Act, visit their website on www.singleparentrights.org