From the TUC

Single parents and workplace reform: The missing piece in the jigsaw

24 Aug 2010, by in Labour market, Working Life

Hidden amongst the barrage of cuts announced in the June Budget was a further extension in the work requirements applied to single parents. The last Government had already compelled those with children aged seven and over to seek work from this October. The Coalition announced that it will bring down the age to 5, reckoning that this will save £380 million, and see 100,000 more parents in work.

The Coalition seems to follow the last Government in believing that single parents are not in work because benefit conditions are not tight enough. But we know that nine out of ten single parents want a paid job; the problem is that the jobs they could fit with their family life aren’t out there.

Gingerbread surveyed our members and users of the NetMums website. 62% told us there were no or very few jobs at part time hours that they could apply for; 97% had seen none or very in school hours, and 95% had seen none or very few job-shares.

A scan of the London job pages over two weeks backed up what parents had told us – we saw only 11% of jobs advertised at part-time hours, with none advertised within school hours or as a job-share. We know that across the labour market, there has been a fall in full-time working during the recession. But we think that, rather than opening up new part-time jobs to employees, employers are reducing the hours of their existing workforce to save costs without making redundancies.

Single parents can’t move into jobs that aren’t there – and although the right to request flexible working has helped, workplace reform remains the missing piece of the jigsaw of parental employment. The Coalition has said it wants to extend flexible working to all – we think such moves should come before work requirements are extended to more parents.

Government can also lead the way in changing employment practices in the public sector. Jobs could be offered as flexible or job-share as standard – unless there is a good, demonstrable business case for why this isn’t possible. The ‘business case’ for flexible working is clear – with companies of all sizes seeing benefits in terms of motivation, engagement and commitment.

It’s time that Government took the lead in making sure that more parents benefit from better working practices – rather than simply placing more pressure on them to move into a labour market that doesn’t fit with family life.

GUEST POST: Kate Bell is Director of Policy, Advice and Communications at Gingerbread, the charity working for and with single parent families, to improve their lives. Gingerbread champion single parents’ voices and needs and provide support services, and their new report “Changing the Workplace: the missing piece of the jigsaw” can be downloaded here.