Single parents remain twice as likely to be out of the workforce

Many single parents want to work but can’t find suitable roles. A new report calls for childcare grants, better part-time roles, and specialised work coaches to help fix this.

A mother holding her baby

 

Single parents remain twice as likely to be out of the workforce or working fewer hours than they wish to, when compared to those in couples, a new report has shown.

The Single Parent Employment Challenge, a report from the charity Gingerbread, highlights how single parents often cannot find good-quality jobs that fit around their family responsibilities, which forces them to leave the workforce altogether.

In the first quarter of last year, 30% of single parents were not in the workforce at all – meaning that they were neither working nor looking for work – while only 15% of parents in couples were in this position. Similarly, 14% of working single parents wanted to work more hours but could not, almost double the rate of those in couples.

Single parents are thus one piece of the UK’s wider worker shortage jigsaw, as employers across several sectors struggle to find staff. The single parents surveyed in the report cited a number of barriers to work, including the UK’s patchy and expensive childcare system, a lack of good-quality flexible jobs, and a lack of tailored support at job centres. 

“[As] businesses struggle to fill vacancies – a key drag on the UK economy – employers are missing out on the skills and abilities of a significant section of the workforce,” Victoria Benson, Gingerbread CEO, says in the report’s introduction.

The report also found that the proportion of single parents who had been out of work for a year or more rose from 28% in 2019-20 to 32% in 2021-22, versus a stable figure of 23% for parents in couples across that timeframe. The proportion of single parents out of work for two years or more rose from 11% to 15%.

Gingerbread’s report suggests a series of solutions including: grants to help parents pay their first month of childcare costs when they go back to work, employers creating more job-share and term-time roles, and job centres training specialist single parent work coaches.

“I worked out that I would be £20 better off working than not working”

While many working parents face challenges around childcare costs and flexible jobs, these issues are particularly acute for single parents who do not have a co-pilot to juggle with. There are around 1.8 million single parents in the UK, around 90% of whom are women. Single parents make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children.

Gingerbread’s report contains interviews with 30 single parents, as well as an analysis of workforce data. Many parents cited high childcare costs as a barrier to work, especially if they had pre-school children. Those with school-age children said their working hours were often still restricted due to unreliable wraparound care.

“When my son was little, I was offered a full-time job. I sat down with my mum and worked out that I would be £20 better off working than not working,” Eve, one of the parents surveyed, said in the report. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under growing pressure from business groups and his own MPs to announce childcare reforms in the upcoming spring budget.

The parents surveyed tended to find work via personal contacts – formal job application processes often didn’t work for them, especially if job adverts mentioned “flexible working” without giving proper details. Flexible working covers a host of working patterns, including remote working, compressed hours, part-time roles, and job-shares.

“[It might be that you’ve] waited for the interview, asked at the interview, and then maybe not even found out [about the hours] until they offered you the job. It’s a long time, a long, drawn-out process, and you are putting in the time,” Orla, one parent, said.

Parents also cited a lack of good part-time roles that made working financially viable. Timewise, a social enterprise, has estimated that around 118,000 single parents could be in a ‘quality’ part-time role but are unemployed or in a lower-paid part-time position. They also estimate that overall demand for part-time work is four times higher than the roles available.


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