George Osborne started his budget speech by saying it was "a Budget for people who aspire to work hard and get on". Given that we know single parents absolutely aspire to work hard and want to get on, what was there in the budget to help them?
First off: childcare support. And we must acknowledge that, in an era of tight government spending and widespread cuts, it is truly an achievement for the government to recognise so clearly that childcare costs are a critical issue for working parents - not least single parents, who must juggle work and childcare alone - and to seek to address that issue to support more parents in work. Yes there are details to be worked out, yes there are still questions about how this additional spending is being distributed between lower income and higher income households, and yes there is the enormous stumbling block for parents struggling today that none of the additional support will kick in until 2015. But overall this is welcome news and a big step forward - albeit with more still to do - for the many parents and organisations who have been campaigning on childcare for so long.
What else did the budget have in store for single parent families, who are still twice as likely to live in poverty as couple families, and - despite bucketloads of aspiration and ambition - still have an employment rate of 59% compared to the 71% of mothers in couples who are in work? Well, the picture at this point is not so clear. One of the Chancellor's most-trailed announcements was the raising of the personal tax allowance threshold to £10,000 a year early, from April 2014. While welcome news for some, this isn't a straightforward good news story for low income workers - not only does ippr's distributional analysis show that this measure disproportionately helps those on higher incomes, but Gingerbread research has raised serious questions about how the higher personal tax threshold will interact with universal credit, finding that lower income workers are likely to gain only a third of the full amount of future tax threshold increases.
Other measures brought clear benefits to businesses that will hopefully create jobs - such as cutting corporation tax and employer national insurance contributions - but very little else of tangible support to low income workers. Rather, there was an implicit threat of future welfare cuts in the Chancellor's rather throwaway line hinting at decisions he'll be taking in the June Spending Review - described in the budget document as "introducing a firm limit on a significant proportion of AME [Annual Managed Expenditure], including areas of welfare expenditure".
And finally, the cheapest of shots at a positive headline - reducing beer duty by a penny a pint. Quite apart from the fact that this will make a negligible difference to the expenditure of even the most avid beer-drinkers amongst us (you'd have to drink a hundred pints a week - well over the recommended limits! - to save just one pound), for all those who are struggling on desperately low incomes and at the mercy of further cuts being implemented next month, it feels like a kick in the teeth to splash out £170 million pounds next year alone on such an obvious headline-grabber.
Budget verdict? Long-term childcare support good, but little to cheer those who are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table today.
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