The “jobs miracle’ claimed by the Coalition Government was impressive, but it had one big flaw: the number of people in work did go up, but productivity fell. Here, Liz Sewell, Director of Belina, argues that lone parents could be part of the productivity solution, and that politicians are waking up that fact.

When childcare became part of the bidding war between the parties in the last election, the Tories outbid Labour and promised 30 hours a week free care for the three and four year-olds of working parents.  The reason being, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had realised that improving childcare is key to involving more skilled women in the workforce and so increasing productivity.

As over 90% of the 2 million lone parents in the UK are women, and around two hundred thousand of them have children in this age bracket, this is one of the biggest potential boosts to lone parent employment in a decade. Not since the treasury under Gordon Brown paid for Sure Start and Working Tax Credits has there been such a positive approach.

This focus on supporting parents makes sense to us at Belina. Although they make up 11% of JSA claimants, lone parents have been moving into work faster than any other group: a 20% increase in Labour market participation in just 20 years. And once their children are in secondary school, lone mothers are as likely to work as couple mothers. 

Clearly, the new Government wants to build on this and so lone parents on Income Support must now start preparing for work when their youngest child reaches the age of three. We have first hand evidence that most parents think this is a good idea. On our Get Ready for Work pilot with JobCentre Plus in Lewisham, we offer employability support with childcare on site. In just four weeks over 30 parents have chosen to take part. Our first programme ran in May and we have a waiting list for September.

And there is more coming over the horizon. Universal Credit is now gaining traction, offering the potential for micro-jobs. Improving Parent’s basic skills is part of a Behavioral Insights Team pilot to boost maths and English. And we are expecting an European Social Fund round soon to help lone parents overcome employment barriers.

Welfare cuts are also imminent, to save money and according to Iain Duncan Smith challenge behavior. We know there will be a lower benefits cap and, potentially, cuts to benefits for children.  Both of these will make being on benefits less viable, especially for those living in London.

Here at Belina we have a few more positive suggestions that will cement the change and make sure that Lone Parents can have an even more positive impact:

1.  Access to the 30 hours a week childcare for parents in vocational education and training; this would improve skills and parents with higher qualifications will be more productive.

2. Wrap around childcare, before and after school and in the holidays, would help banish the childcare problem for all women – who remain the main child careers – enabling them to build their careers, in the same way men do.

3. More IT training and better access to free Wi-Fi would help parents to learn, train and find work in the lucrative new tech-savvy job markets

4. Better integration of really flexible working – not just zero-hours contracts – would help employers get the best from parents

5. A shift towards a living wage would put the onus on employers to make work pay, rather than on relying on taxpayers to fund the difference with tax credits.

We believe that lone parents, far from being problem to solve, are part of the solution to rebuilding the UK economy. Helping them get back to work faster and into better paid jobs offers a triple lock towards a prosperous future: for the parent, their children and the UK economy.

Come along to discuss these issues at our Summer Afternoon Seminar, Lone Parents: part of the productivity solution on Wednesday 29 July 2015. Book on here

Belina was highly commended at last year’s ERSA awards for their innovative programmes to support parents