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UK Politics

Traditional family model of fathers as sole breadwinners is leaving children in poverty

Call for more help for families to become dual-earning households

The traditional model of fathers as families' sole breadwinners is leaving children in poverty, according to research published today.

The largest group of working households with children living in poverty are those where one parent goes out to work while the other - typically the mother - stays at home looking after the kids, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows. Their analysis suggests that for many, the family set up favoured by traditionalists is not a viable route out of hardship.

Of the 1.3m families living in poverty in Britain, 31 per cent - or 400,000 - are those where one parent goes out to work. Almost half as many families, 210,000, are in poverty when both parents are earning.

Katie Schmuecker, Policy and Research Manager at JRF, said: "The traditional family model where one parent - usually dad - goes out to work and supports his family does not offer a guaranteed route out of poverty in Britain today. Our low pay jobs market means many families that are reliant on a single breadwinner find it hard to make ends meet.

"Measures like the Living Wage, supporting people to progress into better jobs and ensuring it always pays to work more will all help increase household incomes. So too will helping more families to become dual-earning households. This means we have to tackle the barriers that prevent people that want to work from doing so - such as unaffordable childcare, and the lack of financial incentive to work. Otherwise many parents and their children may find themselves trapped in poverty with little prospect of bettering their situation."

Households where neither parent has any job at all are still the poorest, with 43 per cent of workless families living in poverty.

A second report from the think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) out today (TUESPM) gives some background to the problems facing single-earner families and highlights the need for Government to provide more support with childcare to enable both parents to work.

Kayte Lawton, senior research fellow at IPPR, said: "Many fathers work long hours, making it harder for them get involved in family life and more difficult for more mothers in poorer families to work. Childcare enables parents with young children to work, particularly mothers, but remains expensive for many poor families and needs to be made more affordable. Despite some improvements in the jobs market, many mothers can only access poorly paid, part-time jobs because of their childcare responsibilities. Addressing the cost of childcare would enable more mothers to work, boosting household incomes and helping tackle in-work poverty."


Jan Gray, 47, from Dover, stays at home while her husband Adrian, 42, works.

"My husband works at a chemicals factory and is one rung up from the bottom. We have three children, aged 16, 14 and 7 and I look after them. It is getting harder to survive on one income because the price of everything has jumped. A £60 shop is now £80 and our heating bills have doubled. It puts a lot of pressure on my husband as the only earner. I want to go out and work as a teaching assistant but if I earn £120 a week I would lose £110 in benefits, including a carers allowance for my 14-year-old who is disabled. That would wipe out my earnings. I think families are better off if both parents work, but only if they have family who can help with childcare.

The other problem with only having one earner is the instability, because if that person loses their job then you lose everything."