Single parents most likely to skip meals to cope with the cost of living crisis

Single parent feeding her two children, to represent parents skipping own meals during cost of living crisis. (Getty Images)
Parents are sacrificing meals to feed their children. (Getty Images)

Parents – especially single parents – are being hit particularly hard during the cost of living crisis.

Those raising children alone are most likely to skip meals due to rising food prices, with three in 10 (31%) going without, a new Which? study of 2,00 respondents finds. This is compared to one in seven (15%) parents in couples, and 14% of all those surveyed.

Depicting the situation felt around the county, one 43-year-old woman from the north west says, "I can't do anything other than pay bills and can barely feed my children some weeks. I walk around the supermarket adding up what I can spend."

Many parents are being left with no choice but to put their kid's needs before their own.

Another 34-year-old respondent from Scotland explains, "I'm not eating properly so that I have enough money to feed and clothe my kids and still have enough to put in my electricity meter..."

With the study conducted in September, they add, "I don't know what I will do once it gets cold... I worry about this daily while trying to make sure my kids are eating as healthy as possible, which is hard when you're on a budget."

Read more: Childcare is costing UK parents over two-thirds of their salaries

Woman shopping for necessities in supermarket. (Getty Images)
Single parents are struggling the most to afford everyday necessities. (Getty Images)

Which? analysed Office for National Statistics (ONS) data and found that different household types experience different levels of lived inflation, which affects their day-to-day-lives.

Single parent and retired households have experienced a particularly high rate compared to other family types because they spend a greater proportion of their budget on food, energy and fuel, which have all shot up during the cost of living crisis.

These households are estimated to spend just under a third (30%) of their income on energy, food and fuel from September 2022. This drops to a quarter (25%) for couples with children and for single households without children (24%) and a fifth (22%) for couples without children.

All household types are spending significantly more of their income on essentials than they did a year ago but, Which? finds, parents – again, especially single – are making the most financial adjustments due to the current situation.

In the last month, those with children have made changes like cutting back on essentials, selling items or dipping into savings.

Read more: Cost of living crisis: 77% of women are seeking jobs with a higher salary, compared to 59% of men

Worried father looking at smart phone with eyeglasses in his hand, in background his daughter doing homework. (Getty Images)
Parents are having to miss important bills and payments. (Getty Images)

Almost one fifth (18.8%) of single parent households and one in seven (13.7%) of couples with children said they had missed or defaulted on a vital payment in the last month, like a mortgage, rent, credit card or bill payment.

On average, the missed payment rate was 8.2% across September and October, compared to 6.2% in September last year. Meanwhile, pensioner couples were the least likely to have missed a payment.

The research also unearthed that one in seven (15%) parents would struggle to pay an unexpected but necessary bill of £300 and that they are also the household type most likely to be relying on food banks.

Plus, one in 10 (8%) single parents and 5% of parents in couples said they had used a food bank in the last two months, compared to just 3% of those surveyed overall.

Read more: Money saving 1p challenge enables woman to put aside £667.95 and pay for Christmas

Donated food is seen stored on shelves inside a food bank. (Getty Images)
More families are turning to food banks. (Getty Images)

Paul is an unpaid carer in his fifties who lives in Milton Keynes with his wife, daughter and son who has a severe developmental disability.

"I used to come home with four or five bags, but now it's three bags," he tells Which? "I'm paying the same price for less products – even with special offers. Meat is very expensive now. I think Sunday lunch will be a thing of the past."

He adds, "I sometimes go without eating as I prioritise food for my son. I've lost a lot of weight since April."

Read more: Savvy mum saves thousands through yellow sticker shopping and funds family trip away

In terms of what can help, Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, urges, "While the government has a crucial role to play, supermarkets can also play their part in helping their customers navigate the tough months ahead.

"Budget lines for healthy and affordable essential items need to be widely available across their stores and supermarkets should ensure shoppers can easily compare the price of products to get the best value.

"Promotions should be targeted at supporting those most in need."

You can support Which?'s Affordable Food For All Campaign here.

For help with the cost of living, you can visit Citizens Advice or call it on 0808 223 1133, or if you need someone to speak to you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 (Monday to Sunday at any time) or text 'SHOUT' to 85258 to start a free, anonymous and confidential conversation with a trained Shout 85258 volunteer.

Watch: Cost of living: Falling household spending power might hurt Christmas but it's a painful part of the cure for inflation