Centre For Family Equity

Justice at Work for Lone Mothers in BC

Investigating the impacts of COVID-19 on low-waged lone mother workers

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and significantly changed the work and incomes of lone working mothers across the country.

It is estimated that the economic fallout from the pandemic erased two decades of progress for single mothers. At the height of the pandemic, over a quarter of lone mothers with children under the age of 12 lost their jobs or had their hours significantly cut in Canada. And data shows that both before and after the pandemic, the majority of parents living in poverty in BC are lone mothers. 

Through our multi-year Justice at Work project, we engaged lone-mother workers across the province to find out how the pandemic impacted their incomes, jobs, and careers. What we had heard was devastating.  

Engaging Lone Mother Workers Across the Province

In March 2024, we released a first-of-its-kind research report, No Way to Escape: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Low-Income Lone-Mother Workers in BC

Led by a team of peer researchers who were all lone mothers, our inquiry found the pandemic had a significant, negative impact on the economic situation for most of the low-income lone mothers in the study.

Three broad themes emerged in the research findings: child care and lone parenting, health and well-being, and economic impacts. Findings include:

  • School and child care closures during the pandemic forced many lone mothers to leave their jobs or reduce their hours, impacting their income and later their return to the labour market. Access to child care continues to be a major barrier to accessing employment.
  • Participants who had been self-employed or engaged in gig work often lacked documentation to prove their employment and income status, which excluded them from government support, including the CERB.
  • The lack of adequate sick days along with mandated school and child-care closures and children home sick jeopardized the income and jobs of participants.
  • Social isolation was worse for families with special-needs children who were also experiencing loss of access to service supports.
  • Some participants experienced family breakdown and became lone caregivers during the pandemic. These lone mothers were, in most cases, physically assaulted as well as emotionally and mentally abused. With the closure of transition houses in some areas, and limited access to other support services during the pandemic, intimate-partner violence left some mothers homeless and at risk of further harm.
  • A lack of mental-health support services aggravated their mental-health challenges during the pandemic.
  • Many participants experienced short- and long-term work and income interruptions due to the pandemic and were pushed to engage in more unstable and low-waged precarious jobs.
  • Others resorted to selling personal possessions to put food on the table.
  • Many of the lone mothers in the study didn’t have the formal education and skills that are required to secure a stable job. 


Our research resulted in 28 recommendations to address the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized lone-mothers in BC. Key among our recommendations is for government to recognize the different needs of lone-parent single-income families in all policy development and poverty-reduction measures in BC. Read our full report and recommendations here. 

Before the pandemic I was hanging on by a thread, but I was proud that I was hanging on, and finding way to make it work as a single mom struggling after years of severe and controlling IPV [intimate partner violence]. Each year since 2020 has compounded the hardship with the price of everything still increasing, while my income and ability to safely earn a living stagnated.

– Lone mother member on the impact of the pandemic on her well-being and livelihood

About the Research

The study used a participatory action approach, engaging peer researchers with lived-experience of
lone motherhood and working precariously to inform all aspects of the research. Six lone mothers with lived-experience were hired, and training was provided on research design, research ethics, and data collection to enable them to participate in the project as peer researchers.

Recruitment and data collection for the study were conducted between September 2022 and May 2023. The project involved dozens of diverse participants in locations across the province. The research employed a mixed-methods approach with one-on-one interviews, focus groups and surveys. In addition, our northern and rural BC outreach and engagement liaison in Prince George built our northern and rural outreach network to ensure geographical diversity and northern reach. 

This participatory action research (PAR) was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada and received ethics approval from the University of British Columbia Behavioural Ethics Board. Dr. Lea Caragata, Director and Associate Professor, UBC School of Social Work was Principal Investigator. The report’s co-authors were Dr. Lea Caragata, Viveca Ellis, and Zeynya S. Alemayehu.

Project History

In 2021, the federal government released a $100 million Feminist Response and Recovery Fund through Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) to respond to the impact of the pandemic on women. Our organization submitted a project proposal and was granted funding for Justice at Work for Lone Mothers in BC.

Next Steps

With phase one of the project complete, we are moving into the next phase identified by project participants, Our Way In: The Justice at Work Pathway to Economic Security For Lone Mothers in BC - an action and mobilization project.

The Justice at Work project built partnerships, networks, and alliances with stakeholders in urban centers and rural and remote areas with a particular focus on northern British Columbia.

The Centre for Family Equity offers our heartfelt thanks to all our project partners and contributing collaborators, including Dr. Lea Caragata with the School of Social Work at UBC, UNITE HERE! Local 40, and the Worker Solidarity Network.

This project has been funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada.