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Lone parent policy reform 'successful'

Government policies to help lone parents and reduce the levels of poverty their children live under have been successful, according to a report by academics at the universities of Bath and Bristol.

Writing in The Economic Journal, Paul Gregg, Susan Harkness and Sarah Smith say their work "strongly suggests that the increases in income and employment associated with the reforms have profoundly changed the quality of life of children in lone-parent families".

The working families tax credit has been the "dominant driver" of the employment gains, they said. According to the researchers, the adolescent children of lone parents are now much less likely to suffer from low self-esteem and unhappiness, are less liable to play truant, smoke, fight and engage in "risky behaviour" and are more likely to stay in full-time education for longer.

Measures such as the New Deal, the national minimum wage, the working families tax credit and increases in income support have combined to make it easier for lone parents to find and retain employment, the research found.

The authors found that as a result of a decade of these policies lone parents' employment rates had risen by 4 to 5 percentage points.

"This has come largely from a sharp increase in the share of mothers becoming lone parents holding on to work at the point of transition into lone parenthood," it said.

They also discovered that lone parents' happiness score, where zero equals completely happy and six equals completely unhappy, went from an average of 1.848 before government policy reform to 1.815 after. The researchers conclude that today "lone mothers are no more likely to leave work than other mothers".