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In a recent study, Rafferty and Wiggan 2011 state, in the past, lone parents with children below 16 years of age had the right to seek paid work or not, without risk of sanction. The recommendations of the Freud Review (2007) of Welfare-to-Work provision and the 2007 Green Paper on Welfare Reform, In Work Better Off, marked a critical phase in policy, proposing a new social agreement that reinforced lone parents’ obligation to seek paid work (Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 2007). Since October 2008, lone parents whose youngest dependent child is above twelve years of age are no longer eligible for Income Support (IS) on the grounds of being a lone parent. From 2010, this was extended to lone parents whose youngest dependent child was above seven years old 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).
This paper will analyse the implications of the 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. The government intention is that those who find work benefit from higher income and improved wellbeing. There are also fiscal benefits, with a lower benefit burden the government estimates that this policy change will affect approximately 100,000 single parents in 2011and make savings 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, 2010). Gordon (2002) stated that uncertainty about how to get benefits reinstated quickly if the job did not work out has placed 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 (1996) 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. Channel 4 News (2011) broadcast that as the new welfare reforms for single parents come into force, lone parents are being set up to fail (Gingerbread, 2011).
Gordon, (2002) also stated that policies pursued by successive Conservative governments throughout the 1980s and 1990s led to a massive increase in the number of low-income households and families. New Labour changed direction and had policies on making work pay by creating a liveable minimum wage and a welfare ideology, which emphasised the importance of maternal care. One of the keystones of New Labour’s strategy to reduce welfare dependency was ‘making work pay’, a strategy that was especially directed at lone parents through increased financially supported childcare and a specific ‘New Deal’ which started after the 1997 election. This targeted lone parents amongst other vulnerable groups. The programme was voluntary and offered a mixture of job search support, training and practical support for the transition to work. There were only limited opportunities for training, with the main focus being on getting lone parents back into work. Gregg, Harkness and Smith (2007) state that Government policies to help lone parents back into work and reduce levels of poverty, could had a profound difference and change the quality of life for lone parent families. The UKs commitment to a personalised, bespoke, support is limited because of the lack of resources and training.
Cunningham & Cunningham (2008) stated that Social Workers (SW) should be aware of lone parents and their struggle with poverty and employability because poverty is a key and defining feature in the lives of many Service Users (SUs). They go on to state that sociology in Social Work is an important skill for Social Workers to bring into practice to help underpin the General Social Care Council (GSCC) Codes of Practice (COP). The GSCC COP state SW’s must have appropriate knowledge and skills to provide social care and keep those skills and knowledge up to date. According to Knijn, Martin and Millar, (2007) reducing welfare dependency for lone parents could result in reduced welfare expenditure and maximised employment rates along with improved socio-political impact for women. The financial incentives for work had to be substantive and sustainable to reduce the risk of in-work poverty.
Gregg, Harkness and Smith, (2007) stated that as part of its welfare reform and child poverty strategy, the incoming New Labour government initiated a series of policies aimed at reducing child poverty in 1997 and a key element of this was to increase employment rates amongst families with children, especially lone parents. Finch et al (2004) suggested that a lack of good childcare is one of the significant barriers to the governments target to increase the lone parent employment rate to 70 % by 2010. The Welfare Reform Green Paper (2007) states ‘work is at the heart of our Welfare Reform Programme’. Allan (1997) stated that benefit regulations were changed in an effort to encourage lone mothers into work and greater pressure was put on non-resident fathers to make sufficient financial contributions to their children’s needs. In its Green Paper (1998) Supporting Families, New Labour’s stance on lone parents was clear about the benefits of marriage (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2010) and also stated ‘paid work is the best route out of poverty’ (Department of Social Security (DSS) (1998). Lone parents were one of their key target groups. At this stage parents could still choose between staying at home and being a parent or going out to work.
In the Budget 2010 address, Mr Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that the government expects lone parents to look for work when their youngest child goes to school. The changes were implemented on 25 October 2010 and affected lone parents’ claiming IS. Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) Regulations (2010) changed the policy too, 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. Ahrends, J (2010) stated that Gingerbread, a charity for single parents, 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.
David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg all pledged to challenge prejudice against single parents in 2010 (Ahrends, 2010) and the newly elected Coalition Government (2010) 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 which came into force April 2011 as part of a package of measures to reduce bureaucracy for businesses. Stratton and Wintour (2011) wrote in The Guardian, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will exempt 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. 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 (CPD). Freegard, (2010) co-founder of NetMums, commented on the benefit changes and suggested many lone parents would be feeling very anxious. She also noted 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. Woods D (2010) stated that ‘family-friendly’ jobs are still far too rare despite the Government requiring 100,000 single parents to seek work in 2011. According to Gingerbread the vast lack of jobs with flexibility could jeopardise plans to have more single parents in work.
A national survey of single parent members and users of NetMums website found that members had seen few jobs advertised that they could apply few for with part time hours, within school hours or as a job share or flexible in some other way. Launching a Gingerbread Briefing on flexible working, chief executive of the charity Weir (2011) called on the Government to move faster on plans for flexible working: She stated that the business case for flexible working has been proven with most employers agreeing that people work best when they have a work/life balance. Giullari, (2009) states 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.
The Freud Report, (2007) states it is an increasingly common expectation that once children reach school age then receipt of benefits should be conditional on looking for a job. JSA is the main benefit for people who are out of work, to receive it you must be available for and actively looking for work. JSA is only given to ‘bona fide’ jobseekers, anyone who refuses an interview, restart interview or fails to keep the job search diary faces instant cessation of their sensation benefits; this is not suitable for all. Lone parents still have the right to limit their hours and not be expected to work outside normal school hours. For the governments policy 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). This welfare ideology emphasises and promotes ‘active’ social policies and needs full employment to achieve this (Knijn et al, 2007). The Coalition Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister, Maria Miller stated, “We know that work is the best route out of poverty”. Now with personalised interventions the most successful are when the intervention meets the SU needs, wishes and capacities (Van Berkel and Valkenburg 2006). Ahrends, (2011) 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. Ahrends (2010) further states 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. Paton, (2011) writes 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, according to the Daily Telegraph. Headlines like this increase lone parents thinking that the government believes parenting can be done alongside of part time work are counterproductive. When a lone parent starts work, there are many changes to daily life. and the lives of their families and other family members may have to be more involved in child care. 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). The Freud Review (2007) fails to answer difficult questions of how putting pressure on the most vulnerable will help the government to meet their child poverty targets and enable the best start for all children.
Single parents want to work, for various reasons; increased income and financial independence are key motivators along with personal independence, the opportunity for social interaction with other adults, and to set a good example to their children. According to Ahrends, (2010) 42% of single parents say that having almost any job is better than being unemployed on benefits. Throughout Britain, a high proportion of single parent families are already in situations of severe financial vulnerability. The cost of living in Britain is £13,400 (Bradshaw et al. 2008,p. 32). Figures produced for the DWP (See annex A) reveal that over 50% of people living in single parent families fall into the low-income bracket, which is defined as below 60% of the national median income after deducting housing costs (approximately £195 per week for a single parent with children). In contrast, less than 5% of two parent families fall into this category (DWP, 2010). Finch et al (2010) state single parent families will suffer disproportionately, not only under cuts to public services but also under tax increases and benefit changes. It is clear that single parent families, especially those headed by women, are at risk of becoming even more vulnerable to poverty.
Jenkins, (2011) states that as most children living in severe poverty are in workless households, priority should be given to removing barriers to employment for parents living in poverty. Key measures to combat child poverty include help with childcare costs for low income households and more support for parents who work in part-time jobs; this could be done by raising the earned income level at which lone parents can claim full benefits, providing more training opportunities for parents who need and want to boost their skills and an increases in the minimum wage.
The London School of Economics and Political Science state the “Misery Index” is a simple economic concept, which puts together the ills of inflation and unemployment together into a single amount of our financial despondency (Rainford, 2011). February 2011 saw it hit the highest level since October 1992. The Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for equality between women and men, points out, unemployment among women is already at its highest for the last twenty years. Women are the biggest losers under the public sector cuts. Women are also most likely to be affected by the government’s plans to review regulations that “burden” business. The Fawcett Society (2011) state that the budget was a good opportunity missed, to present a credible growth plan and had some consideration of how to enable women to take up new jobs in the private sector. These measures were put in place to tackle the private sector pay gap and promote family-friendly jobs, which reflect the needs of a modern workforce.
Lone parents are facing a changing environment of social protection because of reduction in services and monies available because of the central government cuts. 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). Lone parents are not now seen as having caring obligations but as a wider part of a ‘hidden’ unemployed. DWP (2008) state the government’s strategy is to increase employment and decrease poverty among lone parents but there are many obstacles still to be overcome. Gloster, et al. (2010) state that some of this is the incompatibility between low paid, part-time atypical jobs and the primary caring responsibilities of lone parents there is also no systematic provision for special paid or unpaid leave, good quality affordable childcare is difficult to find and there are few training programmes that fit into the lives of lone parents. Without the security of a second wage, child tax credits are paid regardless of the work status and the working tax credit is specifically intended as a supplement for low wages all contribute to this incompatibility. 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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