Single Parent Action Network aims to empower one-parent families from diverse backgrounds and cultures by giving them a voice. SPAN also supports the development of user-led one parent family groups as well as working with organisations and decision-making bodies to develop partnerships to improve policies for one parent families in the UK and internationally. Here Development Director Simon Bates talks about their website which offers information and advice to single parents.
Many families experience challenges from time to time. However, single parents can face more difficulties as they also need to juggle work with flexible and available child care and they may also have relationship and financial issues which impact on the welfare of their child. In addition, legislative changes, encompassed in the Government’s ‘Work Programme’ due for implementation in early 2011, will add to these problems. Parents in receipt of Income Support will have to move to Job Seekers Allowance when their youngest child becomes 5 years old. This will result in more people attempting to find work and needing to engage in training. Nursery managers, pre-school staff and child minders will increasingly start to come across parents facing these issues.
Single parents in the UK
There are 1.9 million single parents in the UK who bring up approximately 3 million children. Although it is estimated that six out of ten single parents are in work, one parent families have the greatest risk of poverty of any family type: 42% of all poor children live in one-parent families.
Single parents experience a number of structural barriers to work, including access to affordable childcare and employment that is flexible enough for them to juggle time for being a parent. There is also a ‘softer’ link to the issue of confidence and self-esteem: over 50% of single parents on income support have no qualifications, which restricts access to work.
Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) is aware of the pressure on one parent families and, with funding from The Department for Education, has developed a unique website, One Space, to provide advice, guidance and support to single parents.
Work as the way out of poverty?
The government believes that work is the best route out of poverty for single parents. At face value this may seem like a difficult position to argue against and SPAN does not suggest that single parents should always be dependent on the benefits system. Rather, our concern is the implication that this has for parenting, motherhood, child welfare and social inclusion.
The latest Household Below Average Income data shows that the risk of poverty for single parents remains at 29% when the parent works part-time and 21% where the parent works full-time. Furthermore, research has shown an increased risk of children’s social exclusion when their parent moves into work.
A further concern of SPAN’s regarding the forthcoming legislative change to the Work Programme, is that parents could have their benefits sanctioned if they are unable to take a job, or unable to find work that is flexible enough to take into consideration. Research has shown that this could both leave children going without essential items and increase the chance their parent’s ill health.
Through One Space, single parents can find a great range of information, including a searchable tool, ‘Your Local Support’ where they will be able to find out about organisations who can help them out. There is a large online community of other single parents too, offering each other everything from supportive ear, to shared experiences that ensure that no one feels they are alone.
At One Space, single parents can also be directed towards our ‘Experts’ in a range of areas such as money advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or housing advice from Shelter. Of importance to most single parents is getting the relationship with an ex-partner right: single parents can be directed towards the support of experts in family law, Child Support and a relationship counsellor.
Finally our new online services will feature a new learning zone where parents can access courses such as life skills, assertiveness and ways into work, all aimed at helping any parent to understand their work readiness. These courses are being offered as ‘blended learning’ so family practitioners can marry face-to-face group work with online learning that single parents complete in their own time.
One Space’s online learning centre also incorporates the highly regarded ‘Freedom Programme’ that helps women understand their experience of being in an abusive relationship.
Finally, there is a great deal of discussion about supporting parents who are under pressure with parenting classes. One Space features an online parenting course, accredited by the Open College Network, that gives parents the skills to enable their child to thrive.
Single parents will be under a huge amount of pressure over the next few years as they adapt to the twin demands of being a mother and entering training or work. They will need guidance, information, personal development and access to specialist services. Some may be a long way from the place that the new welfare reforms expect them to be and there will be families who need help to develop parenting skills and gather the confidence to move away from difficult relationships at the same time. In changing times, organisations who support children and families need to pull together to ensure that children get the best start in life; www.onespace.org.uk can offer an holistic and interactive set of services and tools to link parents into and provide the support they need.
* Simon Bates is Development Director of the Single Parent Action Network. Single Parent Action Network aims to empower one-parent families from diverse backgrounds and cultures by giving them a voice. SPAN also supports the development of user-led one parent family groups as well as working with organisations and decision-making bodies to develop partnerships to improve policies for one parent families in the UK and internationally.