Tailor made? ‘Off the rack’ employment support fails to tackle stalling single parent employment
Today Gingerbread is publishing new research that looks at single parents’ experiences of the package of government-funded employment support, from the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus. It explores the job-seeking journeys of single parents and questions whether the support on offer is delivering for them and, ultimately, for the taxpayer.
Around one in four households in the UK is headed by a single mum or dad: that’s around 2 million parents bringing up children on their own. No small minority by anyone’s standards.
But despite their ubiquity the statistics show that single parents are still struggling in the job market.
Just 59% of single parents are in work, compared with 71% of mothers in couples.
While some media might have us believe that most single parents are shunning work in favour of a “lifestyle” on out-of-work benefits, the reality is starkly different. Single parents are highly motivated to work. After all, they’re the sole breadwinners for their families – families which face twice the risk of living in poverty than those headed up by a couple. A job with a decent salary represents their best chance of keeping their children out of poverty.
What’s missing is the right support to get into that job.
What we have found through our research with single parents is that this targeted, tailored support is simply not being delivered. Instead, single parents are being offered a basic and generic ‘one size fits all’ service which often doesn’t recognise their needs or the barriers they face to work – such as the cost and shortage of childcare, a shortage of family-friendly jobs and the impact this has on making work pay.
Moreover, we found that there is very little difference between the service offered by Jobcentre Plus and that offered by Work Programme providers – the latter of whom, let’s not forget, are being paid significant sums to deliver their magical ‘black box’ solution to getting jobseeking claimants into work. Single parents reported being sent on irrelevant courses and being pressured to take jobs outside of school hours – although flexibilities for single parents should mean they are exempted from this. We are seeing a ‘job-first’ approach – a push into any employment, regardless of the fit. This falls far short of the promised support that will help single parents into long-term work.
The result of this untailored approach is an overall employment rate of 59% and a job outcome rate for single parents in the Work Programme of just 2.5% – a third lower than the overall (and already disappointing) rate for claimants as a whole. Focus on young single parents and this rate drops even further to 2%
Despite the poor service they were getting, some single parents we interviewed expressed sympathy for their over-worked Work Programme advisers, reporting a high turnover of stressed-out staff with very challenging targets to meet.
However, understandably, many also felt frustrated when told to go on mandatory courses that covered basic skills they already possessed, or sent jobs that were a complete mismatch with their skills or for which the application deadline had already passed.
When single parents did find work, the majority of those we interviewed had done so regardless of the support given by the job centre or Work Programme provider.
Here too, we are concerned that Work Programme providers are still getting their payment by results pay-out for a result they haven’t achieved, which is hardly a fair return for the taxpayer.
We’re recommending that the government carry out an urgent review of the service offered to single parents across the jobcentre and Work Programme, ensuring a clear distinction between the two and putting a renewed focus on getting more single parents into sustainable work that fits, allowing them to balance employment with bringing up their children.