Single parents are increasingly being pushed into precarious zero-hours contracts and unsuitable self-employment, putting more children at risk of living in poverty, a charity has warned.
In a report to mark its 100th anniversary, the single parents’ charity Gingerbread said there had been a 58% increase in the number of self-employed single parents in the past 10 years, but warned that a significant number of parents reported being pushed into unsuitable self-employment by jobcentre advisers in an attempt to get them into work.
“Single parents [are] being pushed into self-employment, either by jobcentres or as a way to secure insecure work. We are seeing people increasingly self employed as contractors in retail, catering, caring – this is not an entrepreneurial choice, it’s a last resort,” said Dalia Ben-Galim, Gingerbread’s head of policy.
“The impact is pretty obvious. It cannot be right that in 2018 almost half of children from single parent families are living in poverty.”
According to the report one in 10 parents were forced to resort to “last resort steps” such as using payday lenders, loan sharks and foodbanks.
According to the report a quarter of families are headed by a single parent. Two-thirds of single parents are in work, but 47% of children in single parent households are living in relative poverty.
That is down from 61% 20 years ago, but the figure has been increasing for the past two years and will reach 63% by 2020, the charity said. “It used to be the case that work did pay, it was the route out of poverty, but in the modern labour market that is no longer the case.”
Ben-Galim said the calls made to the charity’s helpline were becoming increasingly distraught. “We are finding that people are ringing up in more desperate situations and they have often already been to the support services we would usually signpost,” she said. “There are fewer places they can go, and the situation – particularly around housing and universal credit – is becoming more dire.”
The charity is calling on the government to suspend the requirement to be jobseeking for single parents with pre-school-aged children or those in training; to widen access to free childcare for three-year-olds to single parents in education and zero-hours contracts; provide jobcentre support tailored to single parents; and work with employers to create “genuinely” family-friendly jobs.
“It’s not right that we still live in a society where children of single parents face twice the risk of poverty compared with those from couple families,” said Gingerbread’s chief executive, Rosie Ferguson. “We want to see single parents valued and given the same opportunities as any other family.”
Ferguson said the unreliability of modern employment leaves single parents unsure about how much they should earn or how much childcare they need and affects their ability to access government childcare schemes that require recipients to work at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage.
Some parents, particularly those with children under two, were spending more than half their income on childcare, she said.
Single parent households have been the worst hit by the welfare reforms of the 2010-2015 coalition government and will continue to be under 2017 changes, with single parent families expected to lose 15% of their income (over £3,800 annually) by 2021-22, according to the report.
Until 2008 single parents were not required to work until their youngest child turned 16, but now must actively look for work or face penalties. The report cites the case of a widowed single father who gave up work to look after his three school-age children and has been unable to find a job that fits with his caring responsibilities – as a result of the benefit cap there is a shortfall in their rent of £70 each week. “It’s a pretty harsh punishment,” said Ben-Galim.
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