The Big Question: How many single parents are there, and should they be forced to work?


Why are we asking this now?

John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, signalled yesterday that he is preparing new proposals to persuade more lone parents to seek work. He said he wanted to "go further in challenging existing assumptions about who - and at what point - someone should be in work". Britain, he said, currently "asks very little of lone parents in benefit", and pointed to figures showing that the UK has one of the lowest employment rates among lone parents in Europe. He said it "just isn't good enough" that lone parents received so little support move on to unemployment benefits, which require them to seek work when their children reach 16.

How many single parents are there, and how many are on benefits?

Of the 7.3 million families with parents of working age in Britain, 1.9 million are lone parents, in other words, nearly a quarter. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that nearly half of all lone parents are out of work. Only 56.5 per cent of lone parents are in work. Of the £92.8bn spent on benefits last year, some £3.9bn went on income support for lone parents. Income support is the benefit the overwhelming majority of single parents claim.

Ministers point to strong links between unemployment among lone parents and child poverty. Children of lone parents who are out of work are five times more likely to be in poverty than children of lone parents in work. Overall, 48 per cent of children in lone-parent families are below the poverty line, compared with 20 per cent of children in two-parent families. But campaigners insist that 66 per cent of lone parents with children of secondary school age are in work.

Is it the same story elsewhere in Europe?

No. The UK has far more single-parent families than any other EU nation. And of the major European nations, only the Netherlands has a lower employment rate for single parents, while the average across a selection of 14 EU states is about 65 per cent. In Luxembourg, about 95 per cent of lone parents are in work, while in Finland and Denmark the figure is about 80 per cent.

How do benefits work for lone parents?

Single parents have no obligation to seek work until their youngest child reaches 16. Jobless single parents can claim income support. They have to attend one "work-focused" interview with employment advisors a year and could lose benefits if they fail to turn up, but do not have to look for a job. From April, single parents will have to attend at least two interviews a year, rising to four when their youngest child reaches 14. When a single parent's youngest child hits 16, they are moved on to Job Seeker's Allowance, and have to look for a job, but many have been out of the job market so long that up to one third move straight on to incapacity benefit, a figure that has shocked ministers.

Why are so many likely to be on benefits?

Ministers believe many parents have simply not had the help they need to get off benefits and into a job. And campaigners in turn accuse ministers of doing too little to help parents with the huge cost of child care. They say child care is a major factor, with British parents paying about 70 per cent of the full cost of child care compared with parents in Europe, who pay as little as about 30 per cent of the full cost. They also argue that Scandinavian countries, where lone-parent employment rates are higher, help keep single parents in the labour market through far more generous parental leave arrangements than offered in Britain.

The pressure group One Parent Families argues that more than one quarter of lone parents are caring for a disabled child or trying to cope after a break-up. The group argues that lone parents in Britain tend to start off at a disadvantage in the jobs market, with lower levels of education and training than other groups.

Why is reform so controversial?

Ministers have treated the issue of single parents and benefits with extreme caution, being careful to open a debate before policy proposals are due. They remember the fury among Labour MPs when 47 rebelled and 20 abstained in protest at plans to reform benefits for single parents just months after Labour came to power. It is one of the reasons why Mr Hutton insisted yesterday there was "no case' for cutting lone parents' benefits. Today, with a much reduced majority, a similar rebellion would easily be enough to produce a defeat for the Government.

What can the Government do to wean lone parents off benefits?

A full-scale review of the Government's welfare-to-work policies is expected to report in March. The review is likely to look at requiring parents to seek work when their children reach secondary school age. Other possibilities include improving training and help to seek work and increased access to child care.

Campaigners welcome support to help lone parents get a job, but warn against a "stick" approach to force them to do so. They say parents should be free to choose how long they stay at home looking after their children. Commentators such as the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research say increasing conditions attached to benefits would harm children unless flexible and affordable child care is available.

Should they be made to look for a job?

Ministers reject the argument that lone parents should simply be left alone to get on with bringing up their children, regardless of financial circumstances. They say long periods on benefits compel people to live on low incomes and damage their long-term prospects. One senior government source said: "We need to explode the myth that people should just be left alone. The more you engage with people, the more you see the huge difference it can make for them to get a job and increase their income and the atmosphere at home."

Chris Pond, of One Parent Families, said: "Those with children in this age group who are not working often have good reasons for being at home full time, with one quarter caring for a disabled child and many others simply trying to provide stability in the aftermath of a family break-up.

"Lone parents want help in getting over the hurdles they face when they are ready to work, not further impoverishment when they are needed at home."

Additional research by Anne Giacomantonio

Should lone parents face more pressure to find employment?

Yes...

* It would boost the prosperity of those on long-term benefits and cut the nation's social security bill.

* It would cut child poverty for a group where children are five times as likely to be poor as those with a parent in work

* Campaigners say nine out of 10 lone parents want to work

No...

* Lone parents should be free to choose how much of their time to devote to their children without having to leave them to work

* Childcare support is inadequate at present to make returning to work a practical option for many lone parents

* Targeting people with secondary school age children might affect dropout rates

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
people
Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
News
news
Voices
Anthony stopped due to the lack of step free access at Mansion House
voices
Travel
Blue Ghost Fireflies in Brevard, North Carolina. Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground.
Photo Location: Brevard, North Carolina
travelGallery: The winner of National Geographic's photo contest receives $10,000
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?