LETTER : Lone-parent benefit is too old

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The Independent Online
ANNE Spackman in her excellent article on lone-parent benefit ("Poverty-stricken policy for the poorest", 12 November) points out that in France 82 per cent of lone mothers are in work, as against only 41 per cent in Britain. What she did not point out is that this is not only because full-time free day care is available for virtually all children in France from the age of three. Another strong incentive to return to work in France is that lone-parent benefit is payable only until the youngest child reaches three.

In Britain lone parents can claim until the youngest child reaches the age of 16. This policy is a hangover from the early years of the welfare state when most mothers of young children did not work. That policy aimed to enable lone parents, like others, to stay at home while their children were dependent. Times change, and what was a good policy to help lone parents almost 50 years ago has now become a bad one that should be changed.

Today, when most mothers return to work while their children are still young, back-to-work programmes and Labour's welfare-into-work strategy are, as Ms Spackman suggests, what is needed to enable lone parents to make the most and the best of their lives - and of their children's.

Phyllis Willmott

London N6

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