THE BLOG

Why the Next London Mayor Must Factor in Single Parents

18/03/2016 16:18 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 09:12 GMT

With the Budget been and gone the next political battle on the horizon is the May elections. Here in London, all eyes are on a race that's still too tight to call

While much has been made of the different candidates' positions on Europe, party politics and - of course - the city, less attention has been paid to the difference the Mayor can make for London's families.

One in three families in the capital is headed by a single parent, a higher proportion than the national average of one in four families. The majority are women, older than you might think - an average age of 38 nationally - and most are working. Like all Londoners, they face high travel and housing costs, longer than average journeys to work, along with the upsides of living in - as the current Mayor puts it - the best city on earth.

But as single parents, there are particular challenges.

Childcare in London is some of the most expensive in the world, with research last month showing costs are typically a third higher than in other parts of the UK. For many if not most parents, especially those with younger children, it's now the second biggest outgoing after housing.

While sky-high costs can be a problem for even the most well-off households, for single parents juggling bills on the one income, even part-time childcare for one child can mean struggling to make ends meet. Half of those we surveyed have had to borrow money to pay for childcare - from banks, friends even payday lenders.

Many of these families are not just making sacrifices; they are struggling to do the basics - be it pay for food or stump up for the latest gas bill. Indeed, while most single parents in London are working, almost half of the children growing up in London's single parent families are living in poverty. And for many, they are one big bill away from going under, for others they're already fighting to survive.

Most of the mayoral candidates have acknowledged the problems Londoners face around childcare, and recognise the strain it puts on household budgets. Labour's Sadiq Khan has promised childcare will be 'a priority', while the Conservative camp says Zac Goldsmith will 'ensure the promised 30 free hours of childcare from 2017 adequately reflects the cost of childcare in London.'

But thus far, detail has been thin on the ground. What can the Mayor really do, and isn't childcare a government issue, you might ask? It's true the many different factors making childcare such a problem in this country - and it's not just affordability, it's also accessibility - require action at a national level.

However, that doesn't mean the Mayor can't improve the especially acute situation Londoners face.

Next week Gingerbread will publish a report recommending Upfront, a childcare deposit guarantee scheme. Aimed at parents about to start new jobs or increase their working hours, this would see the London Assembly pay the initial deposits nurseries and other childminders often require to secure childcare places.

Many single parents tell us finding the money for the initial upfront cost, typically a month's fees in advance, can be hard. For some, it tips them into the red. Others tell us they've been forced to turn down work as they can't afford to line-up childcare until they get paid.

We're calling on all the mayoral candidates to endorse the deposit scheme as a low-cost "no brainer", and now we're asking that you write to the candidates to support our campaign.

We've looked long and hard at the power the Mayor has to really help families in the city struggling to pay for childcare, particularly when they've just landed a job, and believe this could make a real difference to people facing cash flow issues.

Childcare is a big issue, and the next Mayor won't have a magic wand. But more than a million parents of kids under 16 will be voting in London come May. So the first candidate to commit more than fine words on childcare might just make headway with this group - and we know that for 320 000 single parent voters real action like the Upfront deposit scheme would be very welcome.

Single parent in London? Tell us what you think the next Mayor should do, write to the candidates to ask for action on childcare - or join thousands of other single parents at one of our local groups.