Much of the political posturing in recent weeks has concentrated on those who apparently "choose not to work", preferring instead to "sleep off a life on benefits". But we've heard precious little about how the government is going to create enough jobs to meet the desperate need and want there is out there for work.
Yes that's right. The need and want for work. Because - far from the stereotypes - there is plenty of evidence to show that those on benefits would love to work, but genuinely struggle to find a suitable job in the right place; or indeed any job at all. We've all seen the stories of people applying for literally hundreds of jobs, and not getting a single reply.
Our experience at Gingerbread is that single parents who are out of work - and it's important to note here that 59% of parents raising their children alone do currently have a job - are highly-motivated to go out to work, but face the combined barriers of low pay, high childcare costs, limited support into work, a labour market which still raises an eyebrow at the idea of 'flexible working' and a lack of opportunities to train and skill up.
Successive governments have recognised that getting single parents into lasting employment is vital to tackling child poverty and cutting the costs of the benefits bill. But despite years of programmes, drives and policies, the rate of employment for single parents in the UK continues to lag 12 percentage points below the European average. Meanwhile, single parents on the ground are feeling the impact, finding themselves and their families trapped in a cycle of low wage jobs and desperate but fruitless attempts to find work that fits around home responsibilities. As one single parent told us recently:
"I would love to work but there are very few jobs I'm able to do and fit around school, and the competition for those few jobs is fierce. I hate being on benefits!"
The simple fact is that the system isn't working. With 1.16 million children growing up in workless single parent households, and over 300,000 working single parent families living below the poverty line, what's needed is a total gear shift.
That's why Gingerbread is launching a three-year campaign to seek decisive action on four key areas that, taken together, will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of Britain's poorest families and, finally, Make it work for single parents. And if we can make it work for them, it will work for everyone who struggles to access employment:
1. Make work a guaranteed route out of poverty
Sounds obvious doesn't it? Yet one in five single parent families where the parent works full-time lives in poverty. We need renewed debate and action on wage levels and low pay, and further investment in Universal Credit.
2. Get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020
Single parents need access to specialist support from advisers who understand their needs, and the government also needs to commit to sustained activity to stimulate job creation.
3. Employ a different attitude to work and school hours
Employers must open up the potential of flexible working options, government must extend the right to request them from job offer onwards, and schools must offer extended opening hours to better match the hours parents need to work. It's the 21st century, remember?
4. Unlock single parents' skills and potential.
All single parents on jobseeker's allowance should be entitled to a year's job-related training, and single parents on income support should be eligible for course fee remissions.
Of course the UK is facing economic constraints, but that's no excuse not to act. We all benefit when single parents work: single parents can make the most of their skills and their children enjoy a more financially secure childhood. Employers can access a wider talent pool with much to contribute. And society gains from sustainable savings from higher taxes and a lower benefits bill.
Which is back to where we started....So it's time for politicians to stop talking and start acting. It's time to make it work.
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