The steady rise in single-parent families was highlighted yesterday as official statistics showed there are now almost two million in the UK. The figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that almost one in four children (24 per cent) now live in lone-parent families, up from 22 per cent in 2001.
One in seven (14 per cent) live with cohabiting parents, compared with 10 per cent in 2001. The proportion of children living with married parents dropped from 68 per cent to 62 per cent.
Fewer than one per cent of dependent children lived with same-sex couples in 2011. Fiona Weir, head of Gingerbread, the single-parent charity, said: "The data shows that single-parent families are now very much part of normal family life in the UK.
"Most single parents did not expect to be bringing up their child alone, but most are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. These figures underline the need for the Government to support the diversity of family life and avoid approaches that work for only one type of family."
David Cameron has pledged to give tax breaks to married couples, arguing that the Government should be "celebrating and encouraging" marriage through the tax system. But the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has opposed the plan.
The statistics show that the number of heterosexual cohabiting couples in the UK was 2.9 million in 2011, compared with 2.1 million in 2001. Over the same period the number of couples who were married or in civil partnerships fell from 12.3 million to 12.1 million, and the number of lone parents rose from 1.7 million to 1.96 million.
In 2011, women accounted for 92 per cent of lone parents, the same percentages as in 2001. The average age of single parents rose to 38.1 years in 2011, an increase of 2.3 years since 2001.
Statisticians suggested this was because women were having children later in life. In 2011, 45 per cent of lone parents were aged 40 or over, and only 2 per cent of lone parents were aged under 20, the same percentage as 10 years earlier.
In 2011, 51 per cent of lone parents with dependent children had never been married, an increase from 42 per cent in 2001. Statisticians believe this is partly due to the increase in cohabiting couples whose relationships are likely to be less stable than those of married couples. In 2001, 25 per cent of babies in England and Wales were born to unmarried women; the figure had increased to 31 per cent by 2010.
Number of single parents in 2011, up from 1.7 million 10 years earlier – a rise of 11.5 per cent.