Families! Who’ have ’em eh? In the popular imagination a family consists of 2.4 kids and dog. Yet like everything else in the 21st Century, families are ever-more diversifying. Same sex parents, extended families, the boomerang generation. With multiple family forms parents raising children alone are no longer a marginal one. The statistics bear this out. Figures from the charity Gingerbread show single parents head up 50% of all families in some parts of the country. With this in mind today sees the launch in Parliament of the first ever Day of the Single Parent; the first event of the brand new All Party Parliamentary Group for Single Parent Families.
Although there are APPGs on families, children and employment as well as curry, cider, archery and brass bands, this is the first time one has been established considering the situation of single parents ever. Over 40 Members of Parliament across party divides have signed up from Tory male rights advocate Philip Davies to Rosie Duffield, surprise winner of Canterbury for Labour as a single mum - and we’ve not even launched yet. When one MP’s partner found out he had joined the group she asked if they needed to have a ‘conversation’. Others told me they were children of single parents in 60s, 60s and 80s remarking on the stigma in that era. Our ranks include politicians who themselves are single parents, were raised in single-parent families, or simply take an interest in the issue given the prevalence of a single-parent family set up in many constituencies in the UK – you don’t have to be one to be in it. We want to smash that stigma for good.
The brainchild of Ronald Reagan, Single Parents Day has existed in the United States since 1984. We are broadening it out to our shores today and will be joined by veteran newshound Robert Peston (who has been a single parent) and Playaway and Playschool presenter-turned-Baroness Floella Benjamin (who hasn’t but supports the cause). The aim is to ensure that the effect of political decisions upon single parents is considered. On International Women’s Day it was repeatedly stated that public policy-making all too often ignores the impact on “the fairer sex”. The extent to which legislation is single-family-friendly is even lower down most agendas yet it is imperative that the impact on single parent families - whether we’re talking politicians at the highest level to the lowest paid in zero hours jobs - merits serious consideration.
Single parents face unique challenges; they are more likely than any other to be in poverty, regardless of whether or not they are in work. Gaining employment and educational opportunities is harder, and advancing in work and education remains more challenging for those with caring responsibilities. From across the political spectrum, work needs to be done with charities, trade unions, academics, businesses and politicians to take into account the interests of single parents in policymaking but also awareness of single parents in communities.
Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released their report on the cumulative impact of recent tax and benefit reforms. In it, they found that the child poverty rate for children in lone parent households in Great Britain is forecast to increase from slightly over 37% to over 62%, with this increase being directly attributable to the reforms. This is an absolutely staggering statistic and demonstrates the need for single parents to be fully represented in Parliament by cross party groups and initiatives.
At all levels be it Parliamentarians or councillors in Town Halls or HR department policy-makers, we all need to commit to consider the effect of top down actions on all types of families – because every family counts.
Dr Rupa Huq is the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton