How COVID-19 is exposing the vulnerability of single mothers

By Manjot Sunner


As new restrictions are put in place, single parents may find it increasingly difficult to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. [1] Some grocery stores are asking that babies and children do not enter the store, and parents who have to stop work in order to care for children at home may not have additional support to get them the supplies they need. [1] In Canada, approximately 81% of single-parent households are led by women. [2,3] Women are also more likely to work frontline shift work that cannot be done from home. [4] With all schools, daycare and childcare centres closed, single mothers will likely be required to forgo their income. More than one million Canadians who have already applied for employment insurance are suddenly going to have to make do with a fraction of their income. [5] As a single parent, that reality is even more profound since you do not have two halves to make a whole. [5] For single mothers with no social support systems, the economic ramifications of this pandemic could be disastrous. [6]

In Ottawa, Natasha Rose said the following:

I know how I felt when one of them would be sick in the night and needed to go to hospital. I’d have to bring them both out of the house, and I couldn’t imagine having to take my kids out into the community or to the grocery store right now”. [7]

To help address this concern, Rose began an initiative by creating a Facebook group that connected single mothers with potential new friends in their own neighbourhood called the “Single Mom’s Buddy Program”. [7] In less than a week, the Facebook group grew to nearly 200 members to provide support to single mothers in their neighbourhood. [7] It is heartwarming to see individuals go above and beyond for one another, especially during a time when the vulnerability of single mothers has been revealed. [8]

The obstacles that single mothers face were always present, but have now been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Dionne Pohler, an associate professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, said it would be ideal if Canada’s experience with the pandemic exposing gaps in social security for working-age Canadians actually led to a “serious discussion about a basic income long term.” [9] A basic income program in Canada would lift millions out of poverty by helping them access stable housing and food security. [10] More broadly, “basic income offers mothers, especially single mothers, a means to achieve economic independence at a modest standard while disentangling this from the interlocking and mutually reinforcing institutions of marriage, employment and welfare. In a modern liberal-democratic society, this is the proper foundation of liberty, of mothers’ liberty.” [11]

[1] Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Statement – Inequality amplified by COVID-19 crisis | Canadian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/statement-inequality-amplified-covid-19-crisis

[2] Statistics Canada. (n.d.). Lone-parent families. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2015001/article/14202/parent-eng.htm#na1

[3] Asomaning, A. (2020, April 22). The Difficult Economic Side-Effects of COVID-19 for Women. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://canadianwomen.org/blog/the-difficult-economic-side-effects-of-covid-19-for-women/

[4] Wong-Tam, K. (2020, March 25). Coronavirus: The case for a universal basic income becomes clearer. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://nowtoronto.com/news/coronavirus-canada-economy-universal-basic-income/

[6] Scharff, X. (2020, March 12). Why the Coronavirus Outbreak Could Hit Women Hardest. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://time.com/5801897/women-affected-covid-19/

[7] Maki, C. (2020, April 10). Single moms helping single moms through the pandemic. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/single-moms-group-pandemic-1.5527887

[8] Lindholm, M. (2020, April 8). Single Moms and COVID-19: Lessons in Desperation and Strength. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://msmagazine.com/2020/04/08/single-moms-and-covid-19-lessons-in-desperation-and-strength/

[9] Shah, M. (2020, April 22). Coronavirus pandemic raises question: Is it time for a basic income? Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://globalnews.ca/news/6804097/canada-basic-income-policy/

[10] Smith, K. (2020, April 3). How I’m Dealing With Poverty In The Pandemic As A Single Parent. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/covid-19-poverty-single-mom_ca_5e8501f3c5b692780506e7db

[11] Bueskens, P. (2017, July 21). Poverty-traps and pay-gaps: why (single) mothers need basic income | BIEN. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://basicincome.org/news/2017/07/poverty-traps-pay-gaps-single-mothers-need-basic-income/

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