Debt is a worry for everyone, especially in tough economic times.

But if you’re a single parent, you could be even more at risk, according to new figures from debt charity StepChange.

According to the charity, the number of single parents seeking help from it for debt problems has doubled over the last four years.

More than 60,000 single parents approached StepChange for debt advice last year – up from just over 30,000 in 2012.

They had a total of more than £600m debt – an average of just over £10,000 each.

With the pressures of bringing in enough money and raising children alone, single parents can face a daily battle to get by

Mike O'Connor, chief executive, StepChange Debt Charity
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The increase in debt problems for single parents doesn’t just make it the fastest-growing group among StepChange’s clients, but also over-represented compared to the national population.

Although one in 14 UK households is headed by single parents, they now represent one in five of its clients.

They now represent 19.6% of the charity’s 307,053 clients, but just 7% of UK households. According to StepChange, this is the fourth increase in as many years, from 15.3% in 2011. 

Low incomes and insecure work – factors that leave people vulnerable to debt – are likely to affect single parents, who are shown by the charity’s figures as being more likely to be on lower incomes, in part-time work and living in rented accommodation.

Single parents are more likely to be in rented accommodation than other StepChange clients – at 86% versus 75% – the charity said.

They’re also the most likely to be employed part time (33%) and the least likely to work full time (12%).

This is much lower than national figures, where 54% work full time and 20% work part time.

As a group, single parents have tighter budgets than anyone else, StepChange said.

Without the chance of building up rainy day savings, single parents are left financially vulnerable. Image by Daxiao Productions/

After paying their bills and expenses, the average single parent was left with an average of just £27 to put towards their debts, compared to the overall average of £55.

Single parents are also much more likely to have catalogue and home credit debt, as well as being more likely to be struggling with high-cost credit taken out with catalogues and doorstep lenders.

Compared to the average StepChange client, they are 33% more likely to have catalogue debt and 42% more likely to have home credit, compounding their financial vulnerability. 

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “With the pressures of bringing in enough money and raising children alone, single parents can face a daily battle to get by.

“If they are unable to build up rainy day savings, it leaves them vulnerable to even small income shocks or unexpected bills and this can have severe consequences.

“We need better safety nets for when people hit problems so they don’t have to resort to credit to cope and put themselves at risk of falling into problem debt.

“The government’s announcement of support for low income groups to save is a welcome move, but the job remains far from done.”