Glasgow Centre for Population Health has published a report which explores the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms on lone parents moving into work.  The research, conducted by Dr Helen Graham, Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University and Prof Ronald McQuaid, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, looked at the effects of increasing conditionality for benefits and the problems experienced by lone parents trying to meet the requirements now placed on them if they are in receipt of welfare benefits.

Lone parent households in work are likely to earn less than a third of that earned by working couple households.

The research found that while lone parents are keen to work, there are substantial barriers to entering paid employment with some lone parents much further from the labour market than others.  Other barriers included a lack of confidence in their ability to secure and sustain a job, lack of flexibility in working hours, serious difficulties with securing affordable, reliable childcare and the reliance of many lone parents public transport.

The move from Income Support to Jobseekers Allowance which occurs when their youngest child reaches the age of five presents particular problems for many lone parents.  The research found that the regime, which is often punitive and suspicious, forces them to apply for and take unsuitable, unsustainable jobs that they may be incompatible with their caring role.  There is often an expectation that they are job ready and can move into employment immediately, with little consideration given to how far from the labour market some people may be.

The researchers call for a change in approach which recognises the particular needs of lone parents and the challenges that they face, recommending that:

• Obligations to apply for and take up work need to take into account the reduced availability and

increased need for flexibility of lone parents, and Jobcentre Plus staff should be more aware of, and tolerant towards, these specific needs.

• Obligations should be reduced or removed until the child has started school, if this occurs after their fifth birthday.

• Job‐seeking support should be improved; lone parents should have greater access to assistance with searching and applying for jobs, and support to improve their employability and secure childcare where necessary.

• Greater support is needed for lone parents to improve their skills and career prospects through skills development and education.

• Jobcentres should have suitably trained staff to support lone parents (similar to Lone Parent Advisors).

• The supply of affordable childcare should be increased, particularly after school and during holidays.

• Some improved transport for lone parents seeking work, and potentially for a period of time after starting work, would greatly assist lone parents on a limited income. Transport availability should also be taken into account in determining jobseekers’ obligations.

Child Poverty Action Group – Scotland have developed an Early Warning System to collect evidence about how welfare changes are affecting children and families and the knock-on impact that this can have on services provided by local authorities, the NHS and the third sector. They use the wellbeing categories familiar to those working with GIRFEC to help explain the impact of adverse welfare decisions on children’s development.  Organisations who would like to take part in the research can feed in case studies.  Visit the CPAG website for more information.

Read the CPAG briefing on sanctions

Read the GCPH report: Exploring the impacts of the UK government’s welfare reforms on lone parents moving into work