One in four families are lone-parent

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN HAS the highest proportion of one-parent families in Europe, with the numbers rising by more than 90 per cent since the 1980s, according to figures released yesterday.

Lone parents in the UK also tend to have lower incomes, are more likely to be unemployed and have lower educational qualifications than their continental counterparts.

A total of 1.8 million single parents in Britain means that they now account for 23 per cent of all families of dependent children, compared with an EU average of 14 per cent.

The European figures from Eurostat, the EU's statistical office in Luxembourg, show that while the numbers have risen by 94 per cent in Britain since 1983, there has been only a 58 per cent rise in the European Union as a whole.

Only in Ireland are the numbers rising more sharply - with a 100 per cent increase in one-parent families to 65,000, accounting for 13 per cent of all families.

Greece has the lowest number of one-parent families at just 7 per cent. Spain is the next lowest with 8t per cent and Italy, Luxembourg and Holland all have 11 per cent.

As a whole the European Union now has nearly 7 million lone parents. It says the rise from 9 per cent of all families to 14 per cent is "one of the most striking demographic and social trends in recent years".

Lone parents have been made one of the main priorities for the Government, which aims to get a million off benefits and into work.

The "New Deal" launched in July last year provided a personal adviser to help each single parent. There has been furious debate over the success of the scheme, with latest figures in June suggesting that only 1,678 of the 22,400 people invited to join so far had found jobs.

The report shows that the outlook is bleak for those who bring up children on their own, with lone parents facing higher unemployment, lower educational achievement and only three-quarters of the income of other families with children. Nearly all - 84 per cent - are women.

The report says that on average, 68 per cent of lone mothers aged 15- 64 were working in 1996, compared with 84 per cent of lone fathers.

Overall, lone mothers are more likely to be in the labour market than other mothers with dependent children - except, again, in the UK. Here they are 25 per cent less likely to be economically active than other mothers. On average a third of lone mothers worked part-time.

While nearly half of lone mothers around Europe aged 25-64 had completed upper secondary education or held a university degree, in the UK the figure was as low as 36 per cent.

"The two main routes into lone parenthood - the breakdown of a relationship and the birth of a child outside marriage - have increased considerably since the early-70s," said the EU report.

"For example, the country with the largest proportion of single parents - the UK - has the highest divorce rate in the Union and the relatively large number of children born outside marriage."

The National Council of One Parent Families said: "It highlights the disgrace that one-parent families continue to live on woefully inadequate incomes.

"We welcome the Government's policies to make it easier for lone parents to get back into work, but there will always be some lone parents who cannot work and need to be lifted out of poverty."