Held back: single parents and in-work progression in London

Published on 4 November 2019


Drawing on a review of the existing evidence as well as new quantitative  and qualitative research, this report summarises what is known about in-work progression for single parents in London.  The report outlines why in-work progression is a pertinent issue for single parents in the capital and explores their attitudes, aspirations, experiences and outcomes in relation to progression. Further, it examines what can be done in terms of workplace and policy interventions to improve single parents’ outcomes in this area.

Key findings

In-work progression is a key way for single parents to escape a cycle of low pay and financial insecurity.  However, this report highlights five interconnected barriers that are preventing single parents from progressing in their jobs:

  • Working part-time – Single parents are more likely to be working part-time in order to balance their caring responsibilities.  Often assumed to be incompatible with higher paid roles, working part-time means that single parents are frequently forced to work below their skill level to achieve the flexibility they need.
  • Lack of affordable childcare – 41% of single parents struggle to afford childcare – compared with 14% of parents in couples.  A lack of affordable childcare prevents many single parents from seeking better paid roles and blocks in-work progression.
  • Lack of flexibility – A lack of flexibility forces many single parents to work fixed hours in order to balance work and childcare commitments.  Single parents in London in particular, often have to factor in the additional constraint of commuting.  This lack of flexibility means single parents are not only unable to work additional hours, but they are also blocked from training and the socialising aspect of some jobs – key factors associated with limiting opportunities for progression.
  • Time out of the labour market – Being consistently in work helps people to escape low pay, single parents are more likely to have ‘work gaps’.
  • Relationship between education and job roles – Single parents tend to have fewer educational qualifications than the working-age population as a whole. While lower levels of education will typically limit single parents’ rates of progression, many single parents are over-qualified for the work they are currently undertaking.

Key recommendations

With the roll-out 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.  However the five interconnected barriers to progression show that progressing in work is particularly challenging for single parents.

This report highlights a range of solutions needed that require action and collaboration nationally and in London in order to remove or reduce the barriers to in-work progression facing single parents.

We urge the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be cautious in the development of in-work progression requirements for single parents, developing a better evidence base of what works and moving away from a punitive approach including sanctions.

Gingerbread is calling on the government to introduce structural changes, including a day one right to flexible working, additional support for childcare -including a childcare deposit scheme an urgent review of the childcare cap and the operation of the 30 hour offer – and targeted career support for single parents when their youngest child begins primary or secondary school.  In London, we would like Jobcentre Plus Regional Managers to invest and better co-ordinate existing tailored programmes for single parents, and for the Greater London Authority Good Work Standard, Better Work Initiative, and the London Progression Collaboration to all include single parents as a target group.