From the TUC

Making the Grade: How government investment in further education can benefit single parents and the state

26 Jun 2014, by Guest in Labour market

We all know just how competitive the job market can be. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to navigate an assault course, jumping through interview hoops and clearing assessment hurdles. And just like any endurance event, having the right training and skills under your belt can help to make the experience just that little bit easier. This is especially true when you’re trying to land the job that’s right for you – one that is fulfilling and offers good hours on a decent salary.

At Gingerbread we know that single parents are extremely resourceful and hard-working, but they might not have the traditional or formal qualifications needed to help them compete in the crowded jobs market. This puts them on the back foot. It means that when they do find work, over two-thirds of single parents enter the three lowest paid industries. This has a huge impact on their financial security: a third of single parents working part-time are living in poverty, as are almost a fifth of single parents working full-time.

That is why our new report, Making the Grade, is calling for increased government investment in training for single parents. Specifically, we want the government to fully fund single parents to gain their first Level 3 qualification, the equivalent of an A-Level. Our analysis has shown that single parents with a Level 3 qualification:

  • Have longer periods of sustained employment
  • Spend less time on out-of-work benefits
  • Secure better wages
  • Are more likely to work longer hours.

Not only could this make a huge difference to single parents in their efforts to find, keep, and progress in a job that’s right for them, it would also bring substantial returns to the government. The increased tax returns that would come from boosting single parent qualification levels could help the government to make gains of up to £670 million. If the government commits to investing in single parents’ futures, everyone benefits.

But this is not just about extra investment and maximising returns; it’s about changing the way the government approaches welfare-to-work policies.

The current emphasis prioritises getting job-seeking single parents into work as quickly as possible, rather than helping them to find the right job for them. Single parents’ long-term ambitions and the sustainability of their employment is often overlooked by this “work-first” approach. Job-seeking single parents are no longer entitled to fee remissions for their first Level 3 course. Instead they are expected to self-fund or take out a loan. Understandably, many single parents could be put off incurring debt in order to train, and may therefore be simply unable to take up further education opportunities that, in the long-run, could bring them financial security and a career.

That’s why in addition to funding single parents’ first Level 3 qualification, we also want Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers to offer more tailored support. By undertaking an early assessment of the skills needs of all single parents who come through their doors, Jobcentres and Work Programme providers could provide vital help in mapping out future career plans for single parents – helping them to identify the jobs that match their interests and requirements and supporting the training opportunities that will help them realise their goals.

Without these changes, we don’t believe any government can succeed in its ambitions to “make work pay”. Single parents without the necessary qualifications will end up in low-paid work or find themselves yo-yo-ing in and out of work as they desperately search for that needle in a haystack job that gives them both flexible hours and a decent wage; offering them financial security and the time they need to look after their children. To us it’s clear that if the government really wants to make work pay, it needs to Make the Grade in providing skills and educational support for single parents.