A mother plays with her daughter - both benefited from SPAN's support services in Bristol. Photo © Span UK.
Low paid, low skilled work shouldn’t be the only option for single parents
Children growing up in single parent families are twice as likely to live in poverty than children growing up with two parents/guardians.
The government has tried to address this problem by forcing single parents (9 out of 10 of whom are women) to seek work when their child turns five. However, the current back-to-work system gives single parents little chance of finding jobs that pay a decent wage and that can provide them with the flexibility they need for childcare.
Research carried out by SPAN, in partnership with the University of the West of England (2012), found that single parents were not helped to find jobs that made the most of their skills and experience. Instead we found that of the four parents who moved into supermarket work one had been a teacher, one a professional photographer and one a senior administrator. Our Work Programme Analysis backed this up further by highlighting the number of single parents with qualifications and experience that could not find flexible employment. This included parents who were qualified in nursing, teaching and social work with one former teacher asked to go on a food hygiene course in order to become a dinner lady.
Even when single parents had a clear and realistic job path, and one that would allow them to also care for their child, they felt under intense pressure just to take on any work. One parent we interviewed for our recent survey with single parents about Jobseekers’ Agreements – to be published by SPAN in May 2014 – wanted to be a teaching assistant and was volunteering to gain her qualification but was told she must take any job or risk being sanctioned.
Single parents on Jobseekers’ allowance are being judged by the volume of jobs they apply for rather than what is the best fit for them. Some we spoke to were applying for 21 jobs a week.
We also heard how single parents were being encouraged to downgrade their CVs. For instance, one parent who has ten years experience as a personal assistant in the City, a degree and a business qualification was advised to remove reference to her higher qualifications “so as not to put off potential employers”.
Another parent who has a degree, a social work qualification and an extensive work history was pushed towards administrative work. At no time has anyone looked at her CV or work skills.
Single parents are often told, as part of conditionality whilst on benefits, to use the government’s Universal Jobsmatch service. However, many tell us how poor this service is if you are looking for part-time or flexible work. For example, of the 2,806 teaching vacancies advertised in London last week only 126 were part time, and of the 2,035 administrator posts fewer than 8 per cent are part-time.
The TUC’s call for better paid, skilled part-time and flexible jobs is a positive sign but we also call for back-to-work services to be re-designed to help single parents make the most of their skills. The current system stifles rather than encourages aspiration and self-reliance, which is a real waste of talent for the economy. Even worse, without these changes single parents (and their children) will continue to be pushed below the breadline.
That is why we are supporting Fair Pay Fortnight and the TUC’s call for fairer pay and better jobs.