Working parents on low incomes ‘face problems setting boundaries’ 

Working parents on low incomes have more difficulty setting consistent rules and boundaries and this has a detrimental effect on children’s development, according to new research from the think tank Demos.

Working parents on low incomes have more difficulty setting consistent rules and boundaries and this has a detrimental effect on children’s development, according to new research from the think tank Demos.

A poll of over 1,000 parents found that lack of money was the largest obstacle for parents (53 per cent) wanting to enforce rules and boundaries, followed by lack of time (20 per cent) and lack of space at home (8 per cent).  Lack of time was an issue for 26 per cent of dads, compared to 15 per cent of mums.

Demos believes what it calls ‘tough love’ to be the best style of parenting for developing crucial character capabilities. It combines warmth and consistent discipline.  Its research found that, while warmth was consistent across all socio-economic backgrounds, the instability associated with working and living on very low incomes made it more difficult for poorer parents to enforce rules.

Up to 3.9 million (30 per cent) of children in the UK live in poverty. The number of people in in-work poverty now exceeds workless impoverished households.  The Demos report found that for low-income working parents, the combined pressure of financial and time restrictions left many stressed, tired and less confident in their parenting ability. Demos recommends support for families that are working, but poor, through a living wage.

Adding to this pressure is lack of space in the home, says Demos. Unlike European counterparts, the average room size in the UK is decreasing with the average room size in a newly built house 0.5m2 smaller than the UK average. This issue is compounded for people on low incomes, with the number of children in overcrowded housing coming in just under one million (955,000) in 2007.

Kitty Ussher, director of Demos, said: “Inconsistent parenting due to income-related issues is deeply a complex phenomenon that will only be addressed by looking at reducing poverty, improving the housing stock and supporting good parenting. What our research shows is that children in Britain are deeply loved but because life is often far harder for people in lower paid jobs, income has an impact in terms of the quality of parenting in the home.

“Politicians should not stigmatise those working hard to do the right thing by their families but instead should support them to do it better. Only then can the cycle be broken, and we will be better able to support young people to develop the resilience they need to build successful lives for themselves in the future.”

Jen Lexmond, lead author of the report, said: “We must support parents to combat the instability caused by poverty and lack of time. Despite the best intentions, working double shifts – at work then at home – and struggling on low wages takes its toll on parents and ultimately on children.”

Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “We know that a combination of loving homes and clear boundary setting are what children themselves want. Parents from all social backgrounds provide love. But we have to look at ways to support those who because of low incomes have added burdens such as financial pressure and time restrictions.”





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