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I have chosen to focus my essay on lone parents and poverty. Lone parents are a growing group in Great Britain and elsewhere, and one with high rates of poverty and receipt of social assistance. This paper will analyse the current Government’s policy objectives and their vision that it is right to expect people to make every effort to get themselves ready for work, as well as raising expectations within society.
employment, or employment on low earnings (Millar and Ridge 2001). This means that many lone parents have to rely on state benefits which are often set at low levels.
To this list we might also add low rates of receiving child support from ex-partners (the father of any children), and relatively low rates of child support even among those receiving any (Marsh et al 2001). It is widely accepted that poverty is a consequence of lone parenthood. But poverty is itself also a cause of lone parenthood, particularly for single (never-married) lone mothers.
In previous years in Britain lone parents with children below the ages of 16 had a right to seek paid work or not without any risk of sanctions from the Government or other Government bodies (Rafferty and Wiggan, 2011). This was further pointed out by by the Freud Review (2007) of the welfare to work provisions as well as the green paper on welfare reform published in the same year – In work, better off: next steps to full employment.
This was seen as a critical phase in the development of social poilicies within the area, it saw a new social agreement and view that sought to reinforce lone parents’ oblihations to seek paid work (Department for Work and Pensions 2007).
The subsequent December 2007 White Paper, Ready for work: full employment in our generation, while acknowledging that many respondents to the Green Paper did not support the proposal to require lone parents to seek work on the basis that they should be able to choose to stay home to look after their children full-time, pointed towards evidence of the negative long-term effects for parents and children of long-term economic inactivity.
Under the old labour Government, lone parents with a child under 16 who were not in full-time work could claim Income Support. However, from November 2008 most lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over were no longer eligible for Income Support. Those deemed able to work were instead able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, provided they were ‘available for and actively seeking work’.
The age threshold for the youngest child was then progressively lowered, so that by October 2010 most lone parents with a youngest child aged seven or over were subject to the JSA regime and this was further extended in the Budget 2010 to those whose who’s youngest dependent child being ¬ve or over (Great Britain, Parliament, Her Majesty’s Treasury, 2010).
The Government’s intentions are for those who find work to benefit from higher income and improved wellbeing. They are committed to halving child poverty by 2010-11 and on the way to eradicating it by 2020. Currently there are 2.9 million children living in poverty. In addition to making families better off, paid work has other important benefits including improving the health and well-being and future prospects of both parents and children.
There are also fiscal benefits behind the idealisms, with a lower benefit burden the Government estimates that this policy change will affect approximately 100,000 single parents in 2011 and make saving of £380m between 2011 and 2015 (Tickle, 2010) there is also wider social gains with reduced adult and child poverty through increased employment (DWP, 2008).
Lone parents feel that their concerns have been disregarded; that being a parent is a full time job and there are insufficient flexible, ‘family friendly’ jobs available (Woods, 2011). Gordon (2002) stated that there was an uncertainty about how to get benefits reinstated quickly if a job did not work out well for the lone parent and it was another barrier in the way of seeking employment as well as the loss of Housing Benefit and changes in their Working Tax Credit.
This is reinforced by the Policy Studies Institute (1997) which found that many out of work lone parents say they are unable to take paid jobs, even if they could find affordable childcare and the biggest reason given was that their children were too young and needed their mother at home.
On 26 October 2009 Gingerbread published a report, Signing on Stepping up? Single parents’ experience of moving on to Jobseeker’s Allowance, which presented the findings from a qualitative study based on interviews with 34 lone parents both before and after their move to JSA, carried out between January and August 2009.
Before the move, parents expected to feel under considerable pressure to find work once they were on JSA. Once they were on JSA many parents did indeed feel under pressure and some were applying for jobs that would not really be suitable. In general the increase in pressure was not accompanied by more support to find a job; once on JSA many parents said that they had not had any support or advice about job hunting apart from hurried fortnightly sign-on appointments.
Many parents said that they felt the Jobseeker’s Allowance is more stigmatised than Income Support, and parents felt embarrassed about signing on at the Jobcentre. The change to fortnightly payments also was very unpopular and caused problems for many parents.
There was evidence that parents are not getting enough clear information about the change to JSA. Some parents did not know well in advance when their benefits would change, others were worried that their JSA might be stopped if they didn’t find work, and many did not understand the conditions and flexibilities around JSA.
Many of these parents had health conditions or other responsibilities that would make it difficult for them to work, and many had children with health issues or problems at school. Channel 4 News (2011) broadcast this as the new welfare reforms for single parents coming into force, and that lone parents are being set up to fail by the new proposals. (Gingerbread, 2011).
Gordon went on to state that older policies that had been pushed through and pursued by the Conservatives in the 80’s and 90’s had resulted in a large increase in low-income households and families. This only changed when New Labour came to power in 1997 – they changed direction and focused their policies on making work pay by creating a liveable minimum wage and a welfare ideology within society, which emphasised the importance of maternal care.
They created the ‘making work pay’ strategy which they hoped would in the long term lower the numbers of people, including lone parents, who were welfare dependant. It was aimed at all groups who were seen as vulnerable and suffering under the older system and was especially helpful to lone parents as it included increased financially supported childcare and a specific ‘New Deal’ which started after the 1997 election.
The deal was a voluntary programme which offered help and support for lone parents who wished to return to work or make an attempt to do so. It included job search support and the training needed, along with personal support, to help lone parents attempt to adjust and prepare for the transition to work – however one of the flaws that developed was that there was limited opportunities for the training amongst lone parents.
Government policies that are designed to help vulnerable groups, including lone parents, get back into the working environment and reduce the levels of poverty within society ‘could had a profound difference and change the quality of life for lone parent families.’ (Gregg, Harkness and Smith, 2007)
It is obvious that Social Workers must be aware of lone paretns and their daily struggle with poverty and employment. It is a ‘current and big issue within socieity and poverty is a key and defining feature in the lives of many service users’. (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008)
They go further by statting that sociology is a key component and skill for Social Workers to learn and understand so that they can use it in their practice to under pin the Codes of Practice set forth by the General Social Care Council. The same codes that state that all Social Worker’s must have appropriate knowledge and skills to provide social care and keep those skills and knowledge up to date. (GSCC, 2002)
Reducing welfare dependency for lone parents could result in reduced welfare expenditure and maximised employment rates along with ‘improved socio-political impact for women however the financial incentives for work has to be substantive and sustainable to reduce the risk of in-work poverty’. (Knijn, Martin and Millar, 2007).
Finch et al (2004) suggested that a lack of good childcare was one of the significant barriers to the governments target to increase the lone parent employment rate to 70 % by 2010.
In the budget address of 2010, George Osborne stated that the government expects lone parents to look for work when their youngest child goes to school. These changes were then implemented on 25 October 2010 and affected lone parents’ claiming income support.
The Job Seekers Allowance Regulations 2010 also changed the policy too making it that once children are of full time school age, parents who are able to work and are claiming benefits should be expected to look for paid work to support themselves and their family.
Gingerbread, is still calling on the Coalition Government to ‘implement plans to enable all employees to apply for flexible working, to ensure all jobs in the public sector are offered on a part- time or flexible basis and introduce a right to paid parental leave to help parents deal with time off when children are ill.’ (Ahrends, 2009)
Ahrends goes onto state that David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg all pledged to challenge prejudice against single parents in 2010 and the newly elected Coalition Government further stated that it was committed to introducing flexible working for all and launched a taskforce on children and families. Unfortunately 9 months later this same government has scraped regulations and introduced new ones which came into force April 2011 as part of a package of measures to reduce bureaucracy for businesses.
It means firms with fewer than 10 employees from all new “red tape” for three years as it subjects 21,000 pieces of regulation to an audit by the public. (Stratton and Wintour, 2011) This will see a shelving of the right to request flexible working for parents with children under 17 which will apply to all firms, not just small ones. It will also scrap the right to request time for training and education toward continuous professional development.
Single parents often want to work, but finding jobs to fit around the school day is very difficult; as is finding and paying for suitable good quality childcare before and after the school day. (Freegard, 2010). It is also important to note that family friendly’ jobs are still far too rare despite the Government requiring 100,000 single parents to seek work in 2011. (Woods, 2011)
There has also been calls for the Government to move faster on plans for flexible working hours for lone parents however ‘business case for flexible working has been proven with most employers agreeing that people work best when they have a work/life balance.’ (Weir, 2011)
However it is important to note that in terms of poverty eradication there has been an improvement. Single parents’ employment rate has certainly risen, from 40% in the early 1980s to 56.6% in 2009. (Giullari, 2009)
For the Government’s policies to work, there has to be ‘sustainable, flexible work for lone parents to be employed in. Under this welfare ideology one of the key assumptions is that all adults should be in work even if it means precarious employment’. (Lewis and Giullari, 2005)
Ahrends debates although successive governments have promoted work as the route out of poverty and that many single parents are better off in paid work this is not always the case: 21% of children whose single parent is in full time work still fall below the poverty line, as do 29 % of children whose single parent is working part time. 4 out of 10 children living in poverty are in a single parent household, and 9 out of 10 of them are mothers. More than 20% of women have persistently low incomes, helping, rather than forcing, these women is the answer.
Finch et al (2004) discusses that numerous studies have suggested that Britain’s parents are ‘failing, children are miserable and have poor moral, social and intellectual upbringing’. And it has been said that ‘children from single parent families are ‘worse behaved’, children raised by single mothers are twice as likely to misbehave as those born into traditional two-parent families’. (Paton, 2011)
When a lone parent starts work, there are many changes to daily life. and the lives of their families and other family members. ‘All of this including the social, work, carer and school settings are key elements to work sustainability; this has not yet been systematically explored in research.’ (Millar and Ridge, 2009)
Lone parents are a growing group in Great Britain and elsewhere and now represent one quarter of families with children (Haskey 2002). In the longer term, perhaps one half of British children will pass through a non-intact family at some stage in their childhood. Lone parents have been an important area of social policy study, given their high rates of receipt of social assistance. Their low incomes may be traced to low rates of economic activity, low rates of maintenance receipt, and relatively lower earnings when in paid work.
A lot of single parents do want to work and for good reasons such as the sense of financial independence they get but also to set good examples for their children – however with the current changes to the social policies surrounding lone parents and their benefits and the forthcoming changes mean that they feel isolated and vulnerable.
In conclusion lone parents are facing a changing environment due to the budget cuts and the reduction in services. ‘With the Coalition Government there has been a shift away from supporting lone parents being full time carers at home to an employment-based maternal model. There is a rhetoric focus and direction towards supporting employment and now the move to compulsory work-related requirements. Lone parents with children five years or over are treated the same as any other unemployed claimant.’ (Woods, 2011)
‘Family-friendly employment with a work/life balance are not now part of the government’s policies and without action from both the Government and employers, many single parents will remain in the poverty trap.’ (Woods, 2011)
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