Mothers and children suffer the most in family breakups, research suggests

The Guardian 28 September 2014
Women and children are hit hardest following the breakdown of a relationship, with research showing that one in five mothers falls into poverty following a split.

Comprehensive analysis of how parents fare in the years after separation found that children and their mothers see living standards fall by more on average during the aftermath than fathers. Researchers also found that, after couples with grown-up children separated, almost a third of women, usually over 50 and often married, fell into relative poverty, a far higher proportion than for men.

The study, by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, found that 19% of children fall into relative poverty after their parents split up. Mike Brewer, professor of economics at the university, who conducted the study along with Dr Alita Nandi, said: “Women continue to see living standards fall by more after separation than men, especially when children are involved, but even for couples with no children. Mothers and children from high-income families see especially large drops in living standards, because the loss of the man’s earnings is in no way compensated for by higher income from alimony, child maintenance, benefits and tax credits, and having fewer mouths to feed.”

Fiona Weir, chief executive of charity Gingerbread, said: “This research chimes with what many of the single parents we work with tell us every day: that they are really struggling to pay essential bills and put food on the table.” Weir said that the fact that fewer than two in five of single parents – of whom nine out of 10 are mothers – received maintenance from their child’s other parent needed to be urgently addressed: “The findings underline how vital it is to get child maintenance flowing to single-parent families. The government must ensure the changes it is making to the child maintenance system don’t see this figure fall even lower.”

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