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Caroline Davey
Director of Policy, Advice and Communications at Gingerbread
Caroline  Davey

Can single parents find a place in the aspiration nation?

Authors: Caroline Davey Caroline Davey, Director of Policy, Advice and Communications for Gingerbread

15 October 2012

Throughout this latest party conference season, we’ve been bombarded with speeches and soundbites about the importance of work – getting it, keeping and progressing through it. But while George Osborne issued a “wake-up call” to those he labelled as ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’ in the form of drastic cuts to welfare, and the Prime Minister spoke of an ‘aspiration nation’, the question remained – what about those who want to work, but find the barriers to getting a job impossible to overcome?

Take single parents. The vast majority of single parents desperately want to work – and 59 per cent already do – but they face the combined barriers of low pay, high childcare costs, limited support into work, a labour market which still raises an eyebrow at the idea of ‘flexible working’ and a lack of opportunities to train and skill up. As one single parent told us recently:

“I would love to work but there are very few jobs I’m able to do and fit around school, and the competition for those few jobs is fierce. I hate being on benefits!”

Despite years of programmes, drives and policies aimed at raising the numbers of single parents entering – and, crucially, staying in – the workforce, the rate of employment for single parents in the UK continues to lag 12 percentage points below the European average.

With 1.16 million children growing up in workless single parent households, and over 300,000 working single parent families living below the poverty line, what’s needed is a new approach – and the recognition that we need to act now.

That’s why Gingerbread is launching a three-year campaign to seek decisive action on four key areas that, taken together, will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of Britain’s poorest families and, finally, Make it work for single parents. And if we can make it work for them, it will work for everyone who struggles to access employment.

We’re calling on the government and employers to:

1.  Make work a guaranteed route out of poverty – through renewed debate and action on wage levels and low pay, and further investment in universal credit.

2. Get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020 – through a commitment to stimulating job creation and providing single parents with the specialist support they need from advisers who understand their circumstances.

3. Employ a different attitude to work and school hours – through an integrated approach which sees flexible working as the norm, not the exception

4. Unlock single parents’ skills and potential – through job-related training courses for a year for all single parents on jobseeker’s allowance, and fee remissions for those on income support.

We all benefit when single parents work: single parents can make the most of their skills and their children enjoy a more financially secure upbringing. Employers can access a wider talent pool with much to contribute. And society gains from sustainable savings from higher taxes and a lower benefits bill.

It’s time for politicians to stop talking and start acting. It’s time to make it work.
Find out more and add your voice at

The author is Director of Policy, Advice and Communications at Gingerbread

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