By Sir Tony Hawkhead, Chief Executive at Action for Children
Today, Action for Children is calling for government to urgently put in place three critical processes to support young parents across England and give them the best chance of finding well-paid employment.
We are specifically calling for:
1. Care to Learn to be extended to all primary caregivers up to the age of 25
2. work coaches in Job Centres to be trained to meet the specific needs of young parents to give them the best chance of finding suitable and well-paid employment
3. the government to review its working-age benefits freeze in light of the impact on children and families.
There is very little up-to-date research that looks at the lives of teenage parents across the UK and even less so on the 'forgotten ages' between 20 and 25. With the growing expectation that parenthood comes later in life, young parents can come up against negative attitudes and government policy that does not meet their needs.
Over 177,000 (1 in 4) young parents across England, aged 25 and under, are struggling to cope financially, putting more children at risk of poverty, according to our report 'The Next Chapter' released by UK charity, Action for Children today.
We see young parents earn significantly less than their non-parent peers, despite having the additional costs of raising children which is on average £8,400 annually. It further shows that young parents have an estimated average income of £14,700 compared to a UK national average of £26,300.i Single parents who are 25 and under survive on an estimated £14,300.
Over the course of 12 months, a young parent will earn £1,300 less than young people who do not have children. With half struggling to pay for essentials such as bills and food, the impact of such financial hardship over time on their children's physical and mental health is significant.
The narrative surrounding young parents stems from negative attitudes towards young parenthood, which can affect their relationships with loved ones as well as engagement with support services. This can be isolating. There's a preconception that young women might be bad parents, and so there's enormous pressure for them to do the best they can do in challenging circumstances. It's important to remember that young people can make brilliant, loving parents, and, like any mum and dad, want the absolute best for their children. Some just face a number of challenges that other young people and older parents may not, and we need to put the necessary support in place for them and their children so that these barriers can be overcome.
Although the teenage pregnancy rate has reduced significantly over the last 20 years because of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, the story cannot stop there. Teenage mums and dads tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds struggling with issues such as education, work, money, housing, and poor mental health, on top of the conflicting strains and joys a new baby can bring. Our new research demonstrates that young parents between the ages of 20 and 25 struggle with similar difficulties, yet are eligible for less support.
Today's report shows that young parents in England are more likely to be working in low-skilled jobs, trapping them and their children in a cycle of poverty. This is partly because of their struggle with education as only 11% have been to university, compared to 45% of those without children. Earlier this month, the TUC revealed that 40% of low-paid young parents who ask for flexible working arrangements are 'penalised', receiving fewer hours, worse shifts and even losing their jobs.
The knock-on effect shows that young parents (59%) are significantly more likely to claim benefits due to limited work opportunities and child care restraints compared to 10% of non-parents.
In addition, one third of young parents (33%) are in 'skilled' work, compared to over half (51%) of young people overall.
Supporting these young people means changing the existing narrative. It means looking at young parents -- their experiences, their achievements and their struggles -- in a more positive light. We must look at how best to help young parents and their children reach their potential, rather than only focusing on what might go wrong.
About Action for Children
Care to Learn is a Government scheme that helps teenage parents with childcare and travel costs while they study. It is available to young parents who are the primary caregiver for their child(ren) in England aged 19 and under who are on publicly-funded courses in England, including at school, in Sixth Form or in college.
1. Action for Children helps disadvantaged children across the UK through fostering or adoption, by intervening early to stop neglect and abuse, by influencing policy, and by making life better for disabled children. With over 600 services the charity improves the lives of 370,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers every year. actionforchildren.org.uk
2. Next Steps, set up in 2004 and now managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, initially followed the lives of 15,000 young people born between 1989 and 1990, collecting information about their education and employment, economic circumstances, health and family life. As part of this project, the Institute for Policy Research also carried out a review of the literature on the lives of young parents in England, and Action for Children held three focus groups with young parents based in services in Buckinghamshire, Cumbria and Dorset.
3. Care to Learn is a Government scheme that helps teenage parents with childcare and travel costs while they study. It is available to young parents who are the primary caregiver for their child(ren) in England aged 19 and under who are on publicly-funded courses in England, including at school, in Sixth Form or in college.