Held Back: Single parents and in work progression in London

Published on 30 October 2019

With the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) and its associated aim for recipients to increase their pay, in-work progression is set to become increasingly important for many single parents in London.

Currently, single parents in the capital are substantially more likely than other parents and the rest of the working-age population to be in low pay and, among those on low pay, are less likely to progress at work. Five interconnected barriers limit the ability of single parents to progress: working part-time; a lack of flexibility; the availability and affordability of childcare; the relationship between education and job roles; and time out of the labour market. While these barriers are not unique to single parents in London, they are disproportionately experienced by – and have a greater impact on – this group. Single parents themselves view in-work progression within a wider set of financial and non-financial concerns and considerations, among which its potential impact on their children’s well-being is paramount.


To remove or reduce the barriers to in-work progression facing single parents, a range of solutions is needed which requires action and collaboration nationally and in London:

National recommendations:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be cautious in the development of in-work progression requirements for single parents, developing a better evidence base for what works for this group and moving away from a punitive approach including sanctions that are unfair and counterproductive in promoting progression.
  • The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should legislate to introduce a day one right for employees to request part-time or flexible working. It is positive that BEIS is consulting on a duty for employers to consider if a job can be done flexibly and to make that clear when advertising a role; however, this needs to go further.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) should urgently review the childcare cap, which limits the total amount that parents can receive and was set back in April 2003. This level has not kept up with rising childcare costs and prevents the promised 85% support for childcare under UC.
  • DfE should reconsider the current operation of the 30 hour childcare offer to make it more compatible with the realities of working life, including offering this provision throughout the year.
  • DWP should target career support and advice to single parents at key stages of their children’s lives – in particular, when their youngest child begins primary or secondary school.
  • DWP should offer better training for work coaches in skills needed to help single parents progress in work.
  • Employers should use their appraisal system to encourage single parents within their workforce to consider progression and offer coaching to build their confidence to progress.

London recommendations

  • DWP should pilot a London-wide Childcare Deposit Scheme for preschool childcare, including deposits and the first month’s advance payment for those parents on UC who are entering or increasing their hours of work. This should be universally available and paid for from a specific fund rather than being drawn on a discretionary basis from the Flexible Support Fund, as is currently the case. This could be based on the successful scheme devised by Gingerbread and developed by the Greater London Authority (GLA).
  • JobCentre Plus District Managers should better co-ordinate tailored support for single parents from specialist providers across the capital, and ensure this support is publicised so that parents can more consistently benefit from the positive difference these schemes make to their job outcomes and future.
  • GLA’s Good Work Standard ‘skills and progression’ pillar should target single parents, including through their Our Time Initiative, which supports the progression of women and other disadvantaged groups.
  • The Better Work Initiative, the London Progression Collaboration and the GLA’s Parents in work progression projects should build on their existing positive work to target single parents and assess the impact of these initiatives for this specific group.
  • Voluntary sector organisations including Gingerbread and advice bodies within London Councils should provide better support and information for single parents in the capital requesting to work flexibly and challenging discrimination, including those who are returning to work after maternity leave.