Parenting in the pandemic: exploring the experiences of families with children on Universal Credit before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Marsha Wood, Fran Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


The expansion of the UK’s support for families with children from the late 1990s was put into reverse over the decade from 2010. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, parents may have felt that they had less support from the government and increased private responsibility in bringing up the next generation. Drawing on qualitative interviews with parents in England and Scotland claiming Universal Credit, this article analyses parenting experiences for low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular concerning the costs of looking after children, caring for children, and family relationships/mental health. Our findings suggest that the privatisation of parenting in the UK has been further reinforced during the pandemic, with largely negative implications for families with children. The positive experiences for some with families must be supported by public policy change to persist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163–179
Number of pages17
JournalFamilies, Relationships and Societies
Issue number2
Early online date15 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council under grant no. ES/R004811/1.

Funding Information:
Faircloth (2020) links the individualisation, or intensification, of parenting to the nature of (neo)liberal welfare states such as the UK. Gillies (2020) argues that the individualisation of parenting is consistent with an instrumentalist focus on parental investment in children (European Commission, 2013).This can also be linked to the recent emphasis on the work of parenting itself (Daly, 2014; see also Daly and Bray, 2015). Low-income families did find themselves the target of initiatives such as the Family Nurse Partnership (DH,2012) and the Troubled Families programme (DCLG, 2014), with a focus on parenting and families with multiple disadvantages. (These programmes, and parenting interventions more generally, often in practice focus on mothers rather than parents.) But financial support was simultaneously reduced, and Sure Start centres in communities merged or closed.

Funding Information:
per week, rising to 25 hours at ages 5–12, and 35 hours for those with children aged 13 and above (DWP, 2020). 13See the Covid Realities Project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation: https:// 14 See the Gender and COVID-19 Project and the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group:

Funding Information:
Our research5 in four areas of England and Scotland, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, explored the experiences of 90 Universal Credit claimants


  • Universal Credit
  • childcare
  • low-income families
  • parenting
  • privatisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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