Pioneering new research has looked for the first time at the costs faced by non-resident parents who have regular overnight responsibility for their children. It finds that the household budget of a single person looking after a school-age child every other weekend and for four weeks in school holidays needs to increase by about a quarter, adding up to £127 a week in minimum costs.
These additional costs include providing a bedroom for the child and paying for activities, transport and everyday items such as food and toiletries.
The social security and child maintenance systems assume that the cost of children falls entirely on the “primary carer”, the parent who lives with the child most of the time. However, a sharing of care between both parents has been encouraged and become more common. This new study, from Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy, estimates the cost of a child to a non-resident parent for the first time. The substantial expenses that it identifies expose the difficulty that a single person on a low income will face in meeting a child’s needs adequately.
The research, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, applies the Minimum Income Standard, based on what members of the public identify as being required to meet material needs and participate in society, to the situation of non-resident parents. Groups of these parents discussed what was needed to look after a child. The study found that:
- Meeting the needs of a child involves more than just practicalities and providing suitable accommodation. It is about maintaining the child’s wellbeing so that they feel secure, comfortable and valued in the home; maintaining a relationship; and doing things together.
- Additional costs vary from £71 a week for a pre-school child, £127 a week for primary school age, and £111 a week for secondary school age, adding 16% to 29% to a minimum single person’s budget.
- Around three-quarters of these additional costs relate to:
- providing an appropriate home– renting a two- rather than one-bedroom flat, with extra utilities and furniture costs;
- costs for things the non-resident parent provides or does with the child when they visit such as leisure activities, eating out or having a takeaway, and a holiday; and
- the cost of transport especially for primary school age children where a car is included to be able to access a range of activities.
- Most of these costs for a non-resident parent do not reduce costs for the primary carer. While they save a small amount on Items like food when the child is away, the cost of providing an additional home for the child does not save the primary carer any money.
The report recommends that Universal Credit should recognise these extra costs, by:
- Considering the introduction of an additional child element for non-resident parents with children staying overnight.
- Introducing a Work Allowance for non-resident parents who provide care for their children. The Work Allowance allows a parent to earn at least £379 a month before Universal Credit is reduced, but they currently only receive it if they are the primary carer.
- Recognising the space needed for non-resident children who stay overnight in help with rent, rather than limiting the number of bedrooms supported to the one occupied by the parent.
Katherine Hill, Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Social Policy, who led the study, said:
“Non-resident parents we spoke to emphasised the importance of being able to provide a home that children feel comfortable in when they stay, that they have their own things around them, and that they are not just camping out there.
“They want to be able to do things with their child when they visit, take them out for an activity, a meal out every so often, get them from a to b. But these things cost money.
“Our research highlights this overlooked issue and the need for policy to support non-resident parents on low incomes to help manage these additional costs and provide what they need for their children.”
Hill, K. and Hirsch, D. (2024) A Minimum Income Standard for non-resident parents with some responsibilities for children. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.