More than 9 in 10 parents in Great Britain with dependent children reported their cost of living had increased over the past month, according to data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) between 30 March and 19 June 2022.
In the same period, parents were more likely than those without children to say they had used credit more than usual because of the rising cost of living. Around a third said they were unable to afford an unexpected expense, compared with around a quarter of non-parents.
New analysis using household spending data from April 2020 to March 2021, prior to the cost of living increases seen over recent months, shows households with children spent £7,430.80 more per year than those without. Examining how different households spend money can help us understand how more recent increases in the cost of living might affect different household types.
In the same year, the average weekly spending for all households with one or more children equalled 69% of their household disposable income, but this rose to 87% for single parents. In contrast, households without children spent around 64% of their disposable income.
Households with children also spent more than those without on home energy and fuel such as gas and electricity. Single adult households with children spent £291.20 per year more than single adult households without children, while two-adult households spent £223.60 more per year than two-adult households without.
What is "disposable income"?
Household disposable income is the amount of money that households have available for spending and saving after direct taxes, such as Income Tax and National Insurance, have been accounted for. It includes earnings from employment, private pensions and investments as well as cash benefits provided by the state. In this article, when we refer to a household’s income, we are always referring to unequivalised disposable income, unless otherwise stated.
Parents more likely to have taken on debt to combat cost of living rises
Parents in Great Britain were more likely than those without dependent children to report an increase in their cost of living between 30 March and 19 June 2022, and more likely to take various cost-saving actions as a result, according to data from the OPN.
More than 9 in 10 parents (94% of those with a youngest dependent child in the household aged under 5 years, and 93% with a youngest dependent child in the household aged 5 years or over) said their cost of living had increased, compared with 87% of people without dependent children in the household. Throughout this article, we will refer either to parents of a child aged 5 years or over (those with a youngest dependent child aged 5 years or over) or of a child aged under 5 years (those with a youngest dependent child aged under 5 years).
Parents were more likely than those without children to report cutting back on non-essentials and using credit more than usual because of rising living costs. Around two-thirds (65%) of parents reported reducing spending on non-essentials, compared with 56% of those without children.
Around one-fifth (22%) said they were using more credit, compared with 11% of those without children.
Parents were more likely than those without children to have used more credit because of the rising cost of living
Actions taken by people who reported their cost of living had increased over the past month, by parental status, Great Britain, 30 March to 19 June 2022
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- Question: “Which of the following are you doing because your cost of living has increased?”.
- Respondents could select more than one option.
- Estimates displayed are rounded to the nearest whole number.
- Definitions of what we mean by parent and child are included in the glossary.
Some parents were also more likely to report concerns about money in the future. Around half (51%) of parents with dependent children aged 5 years or over said they did not think they would be able to save any money in the coming year because of the state of the economy, compared with 42% of those with no dependent children.
When asked about their general financial situation, more than a third of parents said they could not afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £850 (38% of those with a child aged under 5 years and 37% of those with a child aged 5 years or over). Around a quarter (26%) of those without children said the same.
The latest data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey) on people’s experiences of the increased cost of living, collected between 17 and 29 August 2022, with estimates provided among all adults, by age and by sex, is available in Public opinion and social trends, Great Britain.
Parents of school-age children more likely than those without children to have cut back on food and essentials
Of those who reported increases in their cost of living in March to June 2022, parents with a child aged 5 years or over were more likely to have cut back on food and essentials (40%) than people without dependent children (34%).
According to family spending data in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2021, before the recent rises in the cost of living, groceries were the second largest expense for households behind housing and utilities.
New analysis shows that relative to disposable income, spending on groceries was larger for households with children, particularly single parents. For single parents, spending on groceries (£53.80 per week) equalled 12% of their average disposable income and for two-adult households with children (who spent £87.80 per week), it equalled 10%.
For both single and two-adult households without children, spending on groceries was equal to 8% of income (single adults spent £32.20 per week, and two-adult households spent £64.10 per week).
Parents were more likely to be behind on energy bill payments
When asked about reasons for the increase in their cost of living, parents were more likely to cite increased gas and electricity bills in March to June 2022, with 92% of parents with a child aged under 5 years and 90% of parents with a child aged 5 years or over reporting this, compared with 83% of people without dependent children.
Parents were also more likely than those without children to report being behind with their gas or electricity bills; around 1 in 15 parents (6% for parents of children in both age groups) reported this compared with 3% of those without children.
Nearly half (47%) of parents of dependent children of either age group said they found it very or somewhat difficult to cover the cost of energy bills, while 39% of people without children said the same.
Looking back at the year from April 2020 to March 2021, both single and two-adult households with children had slightly higher spending on energy in the home (such as gas and electricity) than households without children.
Single parents spent £1,034.80 on average per year, while two-adult households with children spent £1,248.00. Households without children spent less, at £743.60 for single adults without children, and £1,024.40 for two-adult households without children.
Parents spend more than those without children on household energy costs
Annual spend (£) on household related energy and fuel, by household type, UK, FYE 2021
Download the data for spend on household related energy and fuel (XLSX, 19KB)
For single parents, energy costs were equal to about 5% of their disposable income, and for single adults they equalled around 4%. For two-adult households both with and without children they equalled about 3%.
During FYE 2021, the price cap for energy (the maximum unit price that consumers can be charged for energy and fuel in their homes, set by the regulator Ofgem) peaked at £1,162 for an average household. In October 2022, the price cap is set to rise to £3,549 for an average household, reflecting a more than 200% increase in the price cap since our spending data were collected.
Single-parent households spent almost £1,800 per year more on housing than single adults without children
Around a quarter of all adults (26%) reported that making housing payments (for rent or a mortgage) was very or somewhat difficult in March to June 2022. Parents were not significantly more likely to report difficulty than those without children.
When looking at overall housing costs, which include rent, mortgage payments, and maintenance on top of household energy spending, households with children spent more on average than households without children in FYE 2021.
Single parents spent less on housing and related costs than two-adult households with children, but this spending was higher relative to their disposable income. Spending on housing and related costs was equal to 26% of average disposable income for single-parent households, compared with 15% for two-adult households with children.
Single-parent households spent an average of £107.70 per week on housing costs, while single adults without children spent £73.30. This means that over the course of the year, single parents paid £1,788.80 more on housing costs than single adults without children.
In comparison, two-adult households with children spent an average of £134.10 per week on housing and related costs, while two-adult households without children spent £104.80, an annual difference of £1,523.60.
Single parents spent more than a quarter of their disposable income on housing costs
Spending on housing and related costs, as a proportion of disposable income, by household type, UK, FYE 2021
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When looking specifically at the cost of rent, two-adult households spent more than single-adult households regardless of parenting status. Two-adult households, both with and without children, living in privately rented homes, spent around £9,000 per year on average on rent. Single-adult households, both with and without children, living in privately rented housing spent more than £6,500 per year on rent.
Single parents were more likely to live in rented housing than two-parent households. More than half of two-parent households lived in accommodation that they owned with a mortgage (58%), compared with just over a quarter of single-parent households (27%). Two-thirds of single-parent households lived either in privately rented housing (34%), or in social rented housing (35%).
Housing tenure may also be associated with a change in income during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our latest analysis of household costs found that private renters saw a drop in disposable incomes between FYE 2020 and 2021, while homeowners and those in social housing saw an increase.
Spending for single-parent households equalled almost 90% of disposable income
When looking at spending and income overall in the year to March 2021, households with children had higher spending relative to disposable income.
Single-parent households spent a total of £356.80 a week on average in FYE 2021, equivalent to 87% of their average disposable income, leaving £57.40 remaining per week.
Two-parent households, on the other hand, spent £556.50 per week, equivalent to 67% of their average disposable income, leaving £284.60 per week.
Single adults without children spent £259.90, also equal to 67% of average disposable income, while two-adult households without children spent £468.40, or 61% of their income.
It is important to note that disposable income and spending do not provide complete insight into household finances; it is not possible using these data to account for other means to cover costs such as savings or credit.
Single-adult households spent a higher proportion of their disposable income than two-adult households
Median weekly disposable income and expenditure, by household type, UK, FYE 2021
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It is important to note that average UK household spending in FYE 2021 was lower than in previous years (£106.40 less per week than in FYE 2020) partially attributed to restrictions on social contact and certain spending to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Weekly average spending fell for all households between FYE 2020 and FYE 2021, except for single-parent households with two or more children, whose spending increased by £58.20 per week, a 14% increase. The biggest percentage decrease in spending was seen by two-adult households with no children, whose spending fell by £136.50 per week, a 20% drop.
Single-parent households most commonly worked part-time
Single adults, both with and without children, had lower incomes than two-adult households, largely because two-adult households contain two potential earners and household disposable income reported in this article is unequivalised.
Single-adult households, both with and without children, are less likely to be in full-time employment than the lead tenant or homeowner (known as the household reference person, or HRP) in two-adult households.
The lead tenant or homeowner was a full-time employee in 71% of two-parent households, and 65% of two-adult households with no children.
Full-time employment was still the most common employment status among single-adult households with no children (with 49% in full-time employment), but single parents most commonly worked part-time (34%), with 29% working full-time.
A third of single parents were employed part-time
Employment status of household reference person (HRP), by household composition, UK, FYE 2021
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- Figures on self-employment for single parents have been removed because of small sample sizes
- "Inactive" consists of people aged 16 and over without a job who have not sought work in the last four weeks and/or are not available to start work in the next two weeks
In two-adult households without children, the second adult (not the lead tenant or homeowner) was more likely to be in full-time employment (46% of households) than in two-adult households with children (33% of households).
In more than one-third of two-adult households with children (35%), the second adult worked part-time. This could be in part because of childcare commitments. According to recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis of time-use survey data, women with dependent children spent less time in paid work per week than women without dependent children, although the same pattern was not apparent among men.
While spending on childcare is an important expense for those with children, it is not possible with our current data to compare spending in this area between household types, because of small sample sizes and high uncertainty in spending estimates.
Household reference person (HRP) The HRP is the person who is legally responsible for the household. Where there is more than one person who is legally responsible in the household, the HRP is the person with the highest income. If there is more than one person with the same income, the eldest member of the household becomes the HRP.
Statistical significance Where comparisons between groups are presented in this article, both in data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) and Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF), 95% confidence intervals should be used to assess statistical significance of the change.
Confidence intervals for all estimates presented are contained in the associated datasets.
Terms used in Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) data
Dependent children A dependent child is defined on the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey as someone who is under the age of 16 years or someone who is aged 16 to 18 years, has never been married and is in full-time education.
Parent An adult is defined as a parent on the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey if they are the parent of a dependent child living in the household. Dependent children in this case includes children and stepchildren.
In data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, parents were classified into two groups; having a dependent child aged under 5 years, or having a dependent child aged 5 years or over living in the household. Where parents have multiple dependent children in their household, they are included in a group based on the age of their youngest dependent child in their household.
Adults without children include those with only non-dependent children.
Terms used in Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) data
Parent In this analysis of LCF data, adults in households with children are defined as parent households. Where possible, we have referred specifically to the number of adults and children in a household, but on occasion adults in households with children are referred to as parents. It is not possible to reflect the relationships between household members as LCF data records household members but not family units.
Child In data collected using the LCF, a child is any member of a household aged under 16 years. The LCF does not test for dependency.
Measuring the data
Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN)
More quality and methodology information on the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) and its strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey Quality and Methodology Information.
The analysis throughout this article is based on adults aged 16 years and over in Great Britain. The latest analysis in this report is based on 13,793 adults from a pooled dataset comprising six waves of data collection, covering the following periods: 30 March to 10 April 2022, 13 to 24 April 2022, 27 April to 8 May 2022, 11 to 22 May 2022, 25 May to 5 June 2022 and 8 to 19 June 2022. Pooling six waves of data together increases sample sizes, and allows us to carry out detailed analysis for different groups of the population.
Further information on the survey design and quality can be found in the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey Quality and Methodology Information.
Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)
The Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) is a UK household survey designed to provide information on household expenditure patterns and food consumption. Data used in this article cover the financial year ending 2021 (April 2020 to March 2021). Further analysis of this can be found in the latest Family spending bulletin.
For a more in-depth explanation of LCF processes and methodology, refer to the Living Costs and Food Survey QMI and the user guidance and technical information page.
Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) impacted both spending trends (with certain activities and retail venues closed to the public for periods of lockdown) and data collection, with interviews carried out by telephone rather than face-to-face.
In addition, respondents were asked to provide copies of receipts (electronic or paper) for the two-week diary period. Interviewers recorded non-receipt based expenditure via additional regular telephone calls during the two-week diary period.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, household finances were also affected by financial support measures put in place during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to both employed and self-employed people through the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), respectively. You can find more information on how the coronavirus affected income statistics over the latest period in Interpreting changes in UK income estimates during the coronavirus pandemic (Financial year ending 2021).
Further information on the effect of COVID-19 on data collection is available in our full impacts of COVID-19 on social survey data article.
Data included in this analysis
This analysis is based on a sample of 3347 households. This article considers households with one or two adults, with and without children (aged under 16 years) in the household. To maintain comparability, households with three or more adults and retired households are excluded from this analysis. This means estimates of income and expenditure for single and two-adult households without children are not impacted by retired adults.
Data using the LCF use the median when referring to averages. Medians were used to minimise the impact of extreme values within breakdowns by household type.
All spending estimates and confidence intervals are rounded to the nearest £0.10.
A small proportion of households report zero expenditure in some subcategories, for example, when household energy costs are included within rent. Such zero values have been included in the figures reported in this article. However, in a small number of cases, where households have reported zero household income but non-zero expenditure, data have been excluded.
Household disposable income
Income estimates are derived in line with the household disposable income national statistics, however, have not been adjusted to account for potential under-coverage of the highest earners. Further methodological work to expand this adjustment to expenditure would be required to accurately calculate ratios and percentages used throughout this article. This article focuses on the impact of household composition on income and expenditure and, as such, income data is unequivalised.