Parents twice as likely to have borrowed more and to be behind on bills: ONS

The ONS has published an article on parenting and spending – looking at overall spending before the cost-of-living crisis and some of the changes since: Parents more likely to report increases in their cost of living – Office for National Statistics (

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown: “Parents are bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis. They were already facing eye-watering costs before prices started spiking, and now they’re being forced to make more dramatic cuts. Even after all of this, they’re more likely to be piling up debt and missing bills.

Parents are having to work incredibly hard to make ends meet. Around two in five are spending less on groceries, and two thirds are cutting back on non-essentials. Despite this, they’re twice as likely to have run up more debts to cover rising costs, and twice as likely to be behind on their energy bills.

The enormous cost of kids means they were already facing huge bills before prices started rising. In the year to April 2021, they spent almost £7,500 more than non-parents over the course of the year. And it’s not just that bills were higher, they also made up a bigger percentage of their disposable income. Life was even more difficult for single parents, who were spending even bigger chunks of their income on the essentials.

Groceries alone were taking up 10% of the budgets of couples with children and 12% for single parents. This compares to 8% for those without children. Single parents spent less on housing-related costs than couples with children, but a larger proportion of their disposable income – 26% compared to 15%.

Life will have changed dramatically for everyone in the 17 months since. Soaring energy prices, rising rents and higher interest rates will have pushed up housing-related costs for everyone, but will have hit parents hardest – particularly single parents – because they make up a larger proportion of their overall spending.

The HL Savings & Resilience Barometer, produced with Oxford Economics, found last month that when compared to non-parents at the same income level, parents are less resilient in almost every area. Those on average incomes are roughly half as likely to have enough cash left over at the end of the month (25% vs 52%) or enough in savings (38% v 71%).

The Barometer also found that parents face an incredibly difficult 12 months ahead. For the average earner, the proportion with enough in savings will plummet from 64% to 28% and those with enough cash left at the end of the month will drop from 25% to just 1%. For parents on the lowest incomes the position looks incredibly worrying, because none of them will have enough surplus cash, and just 13% will have enough in savings

There’s some hope that the energy announcement tomorrow will provide some relief. However, given that the energy price cap peaked at £1,162 during the year to 2021, and the proposed cap could be more than double this, millions of parents will still be struggling, particularly single parents. It’s why, in addition to the price cap freeze, clearly more help is needed for those at the sharpest end of the price rises.”

The statistics

  • Between March and June this year, parents were more likely to say their costs have risen (94% of those with a child under 5, 93% of those with older children, and 87% of the child-free).
  • 65% of parents have cut spending on non-essentials to make ends meet (56% of those without kids).
  • 22% of parents are borrowing more to cover their costs (11% of the child-free).
  • 6% of parents are behind on energy bills (3% of the child-free).
  • Parents are cutting back on food and essentials (40% with children over 5, 37% with kids under 5, and 34% of the child-free).
  • Over a third of parents can’t afford an unexpected expense – compared to a quarter of the child-free.
  • 51% of parents with children over five said they couldn’t save anything in the next 12 months, compared with 42% of the child-free.
  • More than 9 in ten parents are worried about energy prices, compared with just over 8 in ten without children at home.


  • Households with children spent £7,430.80 more per year than those without.
  • Couples with children spent 67% of their household disposable income, while single parents spent 87%. Couples without children spent 61% of it and singletons 67%.
  • Parents spent more on groceries than non-parents. It made up 12% of disposable income for single parents, 10% for couples with children, and 8% for the child-free.
  • Parents spent more on energy than non-parents on average, although during this period they spent similar proportions of their disposable income (single parents 5%, singletons 4%, and all couples 3%). At the time the energy price cap peaked at £1,162.
  • Single parents spent less on housing than couples with children, but a larger proportion of their disposable income – 26% compared to 15%.