New Gingerbread report finds single parents with pre-school children in London face distinct challenges to job-seeking under Universal Credit

Posted 26 May 2021

A new report published today by Gingerbread, the leading charity supporting single parent families, finds single parents with pre-school aged children in London face particular barriers to job-seeking under Universal Credit.  This group of single parents are relatively distinct in terms of their employment rates and level of education, factors which inevitably make job-seeking more challenging.

The ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 Crisis has exacerbated these challenges, with many single parents reporting a drop in the number of suitable jobs available, as well as a reduction or loss of affordable childcare options they rely on to fit with work and job-seeking.

The roll-out of Universal Credit is gathering momentum with the Covid-19 Crisis, with nearly 60% of single parents now having transferred onto this benefit.  Under Universal Credit rules, single parents must become job seekers when their youngest child reaches the age of three or face a sanction.  Gingerbread’s report, Left behind: single parents with pre-school aged children and job-seeking under Universal Credit in London, explores the impact of extending the job-seeking requirements under Universal Credit to parents whose youngest child is three or four years old in the capital.

“I am trying to do my best but I do not feel supported by the jobcentre” (interviewee Sarah)

Gingerbread found:

  • On average single parents with pre-school aged children in the capital have markedly lower employment rates compared to single parents outside of London. These single parents are also less well-qualified than both couple parents and other single parents in the UK;
  • Flexibilities that were secured for this group of single parents to have a shorter commuting time, fewer working hours and opportunities to train are not routinely communicated to parents and instead they are offered a generic service which does not meet their needs;
  • Single parents find it particularly challenging to secure work of 16 hours that is local to their home as well as the vital affordable childcare needed to fit with available jobs.

Gingerbread recommends:

  • A London-wide Childcare Deposit Scheme for pre-school aged children.
  • Regional Jobcentre Plus (JCP) managers better co-ordinate support for this group of parents including encouraging training for up to a year.
  • A concerted London wide focus from the GLA, London Councils and JCP to improve support for these parents post Covid-19 .
  • The Department for Work and Pensions provides clear written communication about the easements and flexibilities open to single parents with young children with a clearer emphasis on the promised tailored support for this group.
  • All single parents with pre-school aged children must have access to a named work coach and have their claimant commitment checked by a second work coach before it is formally agreed.

Laura Dewar, Gingerbread Policy Officer and Co-author of the report said:

 “Single parents with pre-school aged children are being shoehorned into a job seeking regime that does not reflect their needs or the barriers that they face. This group of job seekers would find it challenging to secure work in normal circumstances but these difficulties are exacerbated  by the Covid-19 Crisis.  This leaves these parents exposed to sanctions with little support to help them move into a lasting job.

An urgent overhaul is needed to provide tailored support both from jobcentres and specialist providers.  Career coaching, opportunities to improve skills, affordable childcare and greater access to better part-time work is needed so that these single parents are set on a more positive path to sustainable work in the capital.”

Experiences shared by single parents with pre-school aged children in London who were interviewed or attended focus groups as part of the research include:

“Childcare is too expensive in London.  It is difficult to find affordable childcare that fits in with available jobs.” (interviewee Mary)

 “I’ve told them I would like to go to school to improve my English and they say “You have to get a job”.
(focus group participant)

“If they helped towards apprenticeships or other ways for people to get into a career they want, it would be a big difference”
(focus group participant)


Read the full report