Get single parents into work to save on welfare - report

Published on Friday, 17 January 2014 09:32
Written by Govtoday staff

Of the 1.8 million single parent households in the UK, 650,000 – almost 1 in 4 – are not in any sort of work, with the average single parent household claiming twice as much in benefit support as the average two parent household.

A new Policy Exchange report says that the proportion of lone parent households UK is the fourth highest in the EU – trailing only Estonia, Latvia and Ireland. It urges policymakers to target support at helping young, single parents find work as part of any plans to find further savings in the welfare budget.

The paper found:

  • The level of unemployed single parents can partly be attributed to when they had children. Over half (52 per cent) of lone mothers who had their first child as a teenager (16-19) are not in work or looking for work, compared to 40 per cent who had their first child aged 20-23 year olds, 29 per cent of those who had their first child aged 24-29 and 19 per cent who had their first child in their early thirties.
  • Skills levels also matter, given the large number of lone parents who had children young and now have low levels of qualifications. Whilst 84 per cent of lone parents who have left education and have degrees are in work, only 54 per cent who left education without any qualifications above GCSE level and 26 per cent who left with no qualifications are in work.

However, despite the continued problem faced by single parents who had children young and therefore often have low levels of education, there has been an increase in the number of single parents in work compared to the 1990s, partly due to employment support and stronger job search requirements introduced by the previous government, and the increase in part time work.

Other findings include:

  • Single parents tend to have fewer children than married couples. In 2012, 57 per cent of lone parents only had one child compared to 41 per cent of couples.
  • Single parents with children under 5 who are not in work are twice as likely to have a second child compared to those in work.
  • The most common age single parents have their first child is 20 compared to couples who are together who most often have their first child at 30.
  • While the number of teenage pregnancies has fallen by a third between 1998 and 2011, the UK still has one of the highest rates in the developed world.
  • The number of women aged 20-24 giving birth has fallen by 40 per cent since 1981.

Recently the coalition government announced that lone parents claiming Income Support would be expected to engage with training in return for the available childcare allowances when their youngest child is aged three or four. However, this report shows that more support is needed to support many lone parents with young children into work and reduce the burden that high worklessness has on the state.

This paper therefore recommends:

  • Alongside the necessary conditions that lone parent claimants of Income Support prepare for work before their children start school, the government should pilot offering more intensive training support when their youngest child is three and four years of age. This would offer Jobcentres up to £1,000 per lone parent to provide specialist advice and training, with assessment of any savings this has this has on employment and benefit claims.
  • For up to 12 months after they find work or until their child turns five, single parents with a three or four year old who have been out of work since their youngest child was born should be able to retain a portion of the reduction in benefit spending which comes if they find a job with at least 16 hours per week.
  • So that progression in work is not penalised, selected employed lone parents claiming in-work benefits who have not seen their income rise in recent years should have the opportunity to receive a bonus taken out of their benefit reduction if they progress onto more well paid work, with this bonus paid in a lump sum after one year.

Matthew Tinsley, author of the report, said: "Raising a child is a huge responsibility regardless of your living arrangements. All parents especially, young single mothers, need support. It is right that the government extended free childcare. However, it is also right to ask more from people to find a job. Simply relying on benefits when you are physically and mentally able to work is not fair. Policymakers must do more to help the two thirds of a million unemployed single parents find a job. Such action would significantly boost the UK economy and help find further savings in the welfare budget."

Source: Policy Exchange

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