Madeleine Davies

Beveridge’s optimism confounded? Family breakdown and child poverty (Child poverty blog 4)

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

“There is one overriding reason why Beveridge’s optimism was confounded: the decline of the family. From the 1960s onwards, the UK’s divorce rate rose rapidly. The crime rate followed closely behind it, as did the growth of the underclass. While the better off may be able to afford the self-indulgence of the permissive society, the poor need families.”

Bruce Anderson (Conservative political columnist) The Independent

“Gingerbread urges the government to focus much more attention on tackling the real issues facing families in financial hardship, rather than wrongly vilifying the 1.9 million single parents who are doing their best to bring up their children, often in very difficult circumstances”.

Response by Gingerbread, charity for lone parents, to speech by Iain Duncan Smith to Relate

A quarter of children in Britain now grow up in single parent families, compared to 13% in 1979. The latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions show that, in lone parent households, 41% of children are living in poverty, compared to 23% in two-parent families.

Included in the Government’s child poverty strategy is a focus on “preventing family and relationship breakdown”, comprising:

  • An increase in the amount spent on relationship support to £7.5 million each year in 2011-2015
  • Direct support to charities who provide family support services online and over the phone

Last week, the Government reiterated its commitment to recognising marriage in the income tax system.

So does family break-down cause poverty?

The answer, is, not in itself. The Department for Work and Pensions explains:

“It is the high level of worklessness amongst lone parents that increases the risk of poverty for children in lone parent families; lone parents in work have a lower risk of poverty than many other working families.”

Analysis conducted by Barnado’s shows that a lone parent with two children, one aged 14 and the other aged five, needs £258 to take them above the after housing costs poverty line. The amount of benefit that this family would get if the parent was out of work is £219, which is well below the poverty line

The single parent employment rate rose from 57.3% to 59.2% in 2012. However, this still means that more than two in five of lone parent households are workless.  This compares with 6% of couples without dependent children and 6% of couples with children.

Furthermore, as the previous blog showed, work doesn’t always offer a route out of poverty. According to ONS statistics, 18% of families where the single parent works full-time are in poverty, as are 23% of families where the single parent works part-time.

Recently, single parent charity Gingerbread commissioned the Work Foundation to conduct statistical analysis of the position of single parents in the labour market using data from the DWP and the Labour Force Survey.

This found that:

  • Over two thirds (68 per cent) of single parents enter low-skilled and low paid work
  • Of the single parents who find work, 22% will move out of employment again within 12 months

As I noted in my previous blog, there has been a “hollowing out” of the labour market in recent years, with fewer middle wage jobs available and fiercer competition for those at the lower end of the market. Another challenge facing single parents is the lack of well-paid part time jobs. Analysis published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this year shows that less than three per cent of part-time vacancies are for roles with salaries starting at £20,000 full-time equivalent.

However, earning a qualification is a proven route into better-paid work. Gingebread has produced a table showing the cost of training and the potential salary it could lead to:

Level 3 course Approximate cost Earnings potential   (FTE per annum)
Retail management £1,300-£2,500 £21,000-£28,000
Teaching Assistant £300-£600 £17,000-£20,000
Accountancy £300-£600 £25,000
Health and beauty £1,300-£4,000 £20,000
Health and social   care £300-£2,000 £14,000-£19,000

One of its current campaigns, is to persuade the Government to ensure that single parents with children aged five and six who take up further education courses are treated as fulfilling work search obligations

Under previous rules, single parents on income support had a two year window of opportunity to access further education, with a fee remission, when their children started school and before their entitlement to the benefit ended. The current government has ended this concession.

Gingerbread explains: “Fee remission is only available to those on Job Seekers Allowance who juggle studying with meeting work availability requirements in order to receive their weekly benefit payment. This includes being prepared to leave a course if offered employment or face a payment sanction if they refuse.”

The breakdown of relationships is not the only explanation of child poverty (63 per cent of children in poverty live in families with two parents) but it is a factor, and an important one.

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