Centre For Family Equity

Justice at Work research highlights mothers' poverty in BC

May 08, 2024

The Centre for Family Equity is highlighting its 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 released in March. The research found the pandemic had a significant, negative impact on the economic situation for most of the low-income lone mothers in the study.

“This upcoming Mother’s Day reminds us that the majority of parents living in poverty are lone mothers and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and significantly worsened the incomes and work situations for so many of them,” said Viveca Ellis, the Centre for Family Equity’s executive director. “Many mothers came to rely solely on precarious work - and with schools, child care, and support services closed or curtailed - families felt desperate and isolated.”

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

  • School and child care closures forced many lone mothers to leave their jobs or reduce their hours, which impacted their income and post pandemic return to the labour market.
  • Lone mothers used not only their own sick days (if they had them) but vacation days as well to care for sick children.
  • Some participants experienced family breakdown and became lone mothers. These lone mothers were, in most cases, physically assaulted as well as emotionally and mentally abused at a time when many transition houses and other services were unavailable.
  • 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.
  • Some research participants reported they were taken advantage of by employers and worked unpaid overtime or took on uncompensated responsibilities out of fear of losing their jobs.
  • Throughout the pandemic, the source of income for most of the participants was from the most precarious work like house cleaning, elder or child care, or other gig work. Some participants resorted to survival gig work, like food delivery, that allowed them to take their kids with them.

“Going into the pandemic, many of the lone mothers in the study did not have the formal education and skills that are required to access a stable job,” observed Dr. Lea Caragata, co-author of the study. “To acquire those skills, lone mothers need a system that is built to support their child care needs paired with access to education and the skills upgrading and training required to secure family-supporting jobs."

The report makes urgent recommendations to the provincial government to address the economic and well-being related recovery of low-income lone mothers in the post-pandemic period including:

  • Recognize the different needs of lone-parent single-income families in all policy development and poverty-reduction measures in BC.
  • Create a permanent Provincial State of Emergency Vulnerable Populations Task Force to address the needs of low-income and marginalized children, youth, and families during a Provincial State of Emergency.
  • Ensure parents receiving income and disability assistance have priority access to $10-a-day spaces and provide an additional five days of employer-paid sick days per year in BC for caregiving responsibilities related to dependents’ and other family members’ sickness and care needs.

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.


Download the media release here.

Download the backgrounder here.