Working mothers at bottom of heap

While the Tories have failed to uphold the pledge of 25 years ago to provide better childcare, there are also no clear signs of what a Labour government would offer

As the demand for women in the British workforce grows until they are expected to exceed the number of men in employment by the year 2006, the Government and Labour are determined to seize the opportunity to coax lone mothers off welfare and back into jobs.

But neither ministers nor Labour have solved the question of who will be mother while the nation's estimated 1.3 million single parents go to work. If they join the growing army of female workers, what will happen to their children?

Although the Government pledged to bring down the barriers to childcare yesterday, Britain has one of the worst systems in Europe. For women struggling to bring up children alone without back-up, the task of combining caring for their family with holding down a job that may include unsocial shifts is bewildering.

Contrary to the stereotypical image of the feckless lone mother, Karin Pappenheim, director of the Council for One Parent Families, says recent surveys show that most are eager to return to work. But they do not see how they can look after their children at the same time.

Ms Pappenheim said: "The barrier of childcare is immense. These parents are also acutely aware they are the only parent their children have, and they are very protective of them because they have often been through a traumatic experience with parents breaking up."

She added: "They're very concerned their children should have security and quality care. They want to improve standards of living for their children and families, but a greater targeting of their childcare needs is crucial before they can juggle being the main carer with being the main breadwinner."

Those nurseries that do offer care are bursting at the seams. The Buffer Bear chain, which opened a new base in Reading, Berkshire, recently, filled places immediately and has a waiting list for parents who hope to get their children in when it is extended. But, like most facilities, it closes at 7pm, when many women returning to employment are just starting their working day because often the only jobs available to them are those where they have to do evening and weekend shifts, such as in supermarkets or pubs.

Kay Turner, managing director of the company that runs the chain, said: "Our experience is that there is a lack of supply of the right quality of childcare that parents are looking for.

"As soon as we open a nursery it's clear there is a whole wealth of people out there waiting for a facility like this."

Britain, which pays out an estimated pounds 9bn a year in benefits to single mothers, is not alone in attempting to push them back to the workplace. In the United States, President Bill Clinton this month infuriated many liberals by signing a controversial welfare-reform Bill that will cut back on benefits for single mothers.

For 60 years in the US, poor single mothers were guaranteed welfare payments by the federal government indefinitely, or until they found a job. That guarantee has been withdrawn, and now the head of every family must find work within two years of going on welfare, or lose their benefit.

Both the Government and the Labour Party have studied international models in the past year. While Labour has concentrated on an Australian scheme which includes retraining and childcare back-up, Andrew Mitchell, the social security minister, has set up a pilot scheme based on a Californian idea.

In April, job centres in 20 areas with a total of 100,000 single mothers will use specially recruited staff to concentrate on finding them jobs. According to an independent study, the scheme in California, visited by Mr Mitchell earlier this year, cut welfare by 15 per cent in three years.

However, the theoretical schemes of both parties mean little on a practical level to single mothers, who have to cope with pre-school infants or older children outside school hours, when childcare facilities are not available.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "Problems for lone parents are particularly acute, because they have to meet the costs from out of one wage rather than out of two. This obviously puts them at a great disadvantage and a proper framework of affordable care is essential to take them out of the benefits trap."

The most recent Department of Social Security research showed that only 11 per cent of lone parents with a child under five worked 24 hours or more per week in 1993, compared with half of those with teenage children. Three-quarters of lone parents said reliable childcare was "essential" or "very important" in helping them return to work.

While the Tories have failed to uphold Baroness Thatcher's pledge of 25 years ago to provide better childcare, there are also no clear signs of what a Labour government would offer following a similar pledge by Mr Blair last year. He said: "When single mothers are trapped at home for lack of childcare, we are poorer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high